It has been three weeks since these two teams met each other, in what was dubbed the “Game of the Century.”
Now, two months later, we’re right back to where we started: LSU and Alabama, but this time for a bigger prize: the national championship.
Who will come out on top this time?
Swami McMullen dusts off his crystal ball to see who comes out the victor in Round Two of the “Game of the Century.” Who will hoist the crystal football this time in this matchup of perennial national champions? Read on, dear reader, read on…
Why the Fighting Tigers Will Win:
Don’t Mess With The Honey Badger: Sophomore Tyrann Mathieu, also known as the Honey Badger, has been a defensive force to be reckoned with for LSU this year, keeping passing attacks in the always-tough SEC down to a bare minimum.
He’ll definitely be put on the Crimson Tide’s best receiver (most likely senior wide receiver Marquis Maze), leaving quarterback A.J. McCarron with few options in the passing game. Certainly, the running game of Alabama can’t carry the whole Alabama offense, even if they do get almost 220 yards per game (good enough for 14th in the nation).
Mathieu is also an effective punt returner, racking up over 400 yards and the team's only two punt returns for touchdowns.
If the Honey Badger is able to get a couple of key stops and possibly break a couple punts for long gains, he may be able to put the Tide away and hoist the Coaches’ Trophy for LSU for the third time.
In Their Own Backyard: This year’s National Championship game is in the New Orleans Superdome, which is only 80 miles from LSU’s hometown of Baton Rouge.
Meanwhile, Alabama has to go go almost 300 miles to get to the Superdome. This will most certainly put some bus lag on the backs of the Tide.
While this may be shaken off within a quarter, that may be too much to give the Tigers’ offense, who have scored almost 39 points per game.
Add to that the thousands of fans from Baton Rouge who will most likely be there, and the Tide already have long odds against them before they even walk out of the tunnel. If the Tigers can ride that wave of support, they should be able to coast to an easy victory.
Up In The Air: While Alabama only gives up about 116 passing yards per game, they have a tall task indeed in containing Tigers’ quarterback Jarrett Lee and the LSU receiving corps. LSU's passing attack is only 105th in the Nation (a paltry 160 yards per game), but they do have a couple of deep attacks in wide receivers Ruben Randle and Odell Beckham, who have over 1,300 yards and ten of the team’s 56 offensive touchdowns between them (the rest have no more than 190 yards and four touchdowns).
This is a matchup between the unstoppable force that is Randle and Beckham, along with the rest of the receiving corps, and the immovable object that is a stifling Alabama pass defense. If either of the Tigers receivers can break out of that defense, they might be in for big nights.
Why the Crimson Tide Will Win:
Sweet Revenge?: The last time these two teams met, neither team could score a touchdown, and the Tide lost in a 9-6 heart-breaker. They’ll be looking for redemption for their seniors, including Maze, who has been a force in the Tide’s receiving corps.
Even though Alabama has a national championship (from two years ago), what better way for the Tide’s 23 graduating seniors to go out than to win their second championship in three years, in front of their bitter rivals in their own backyard?
Richardson Runs Wild: Junior running back Trent Richardson has been running wild over defenses all season, racking up almost 1,600 yards, along with 20 touchdowns in 2011, including a 203-yard performance in their win over Auburn. He might be a point of concern for the Tigers, because if he breaks through the line, he is a threat to go all the way.
If LSU’s defense isn’t at the top of their game, it could be a big day for Richardson, and a long one for coach Les Miles. The Tide rack up over 200 yards per game on the ground (good enough for 14th in the nation). He can ill afford a day like their last outing against the Fighting Tigers (23 carries, 89 yards) if the Tide want to win.
I think if Richardson can double his production from the early-November matchup, the Crimson Tide should be able to take home the National Championship.
All Tired Out: LSU has had a rough three weeks before earning their national championship bid, their only respite being a 52-3 pounding over cellar-dwellers Ole Miss and a 42-9 beating over 7-5 Western Kentucky the weeks after their win to the Crimson Tide.
While neither game (against Arkansas and Georgia in the SEC Championship) was as even a matchup as Alabama, it still had to have tired out the Tigers quite a bit.
Alabama, however, has had an easier road to New Orleans after their defeat in Baton Rouge, knocking off Georgia Southern and Auburn. Therefore, the Tide might be a little bit fresher.
There are two edges to this sword, however. Alabama hasn’t played against another opponent since the end of November, and might have a little rust to start out with. However, they should be able to shake off that rust and still be able to keep pace with the Tigers.
Prediction: The Crimson Tide gain sweet redemption, but in another squeaker, 38-35. Even though they lost in November, they must have learned something and improved since then. Mathieu can’t possibly contain the entire Crimson Tide offense, and Richardson could run wild against a defense that gives up almost 11 points per game.
While that is good enough for second in the nation, it’s not enough to beat Alabama, who gives up less than 9 points per game. That will most likely be the difference in this matchup between these two evenly matched teams.
There you have it: in this battle of the jungle, the elephant takes out the tiger.
Who will hoist the crystal football? Will the Honey Badger take a big bite out of the Alabama offense, or will Richardson run roughshod over the Tigers? We’ll just have to watch to find out!
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