LSU QB Zach Mettenberger
Call it the "Game of the Century Part III," "Football-mageddon," the "SEC West Title Game" or any other catchy nickname you want to come up with. When Alabama and LSU meet on Saturday night in Death Valley, it will be about two things: revenge for LSU and confirmation for Alabama.
When the final gun sounds, SEC and national ramifications will be discussed. But this is one of those rare instances when winning one football game is, truly, what it's all about.
LSU will enter the football game as hefty 9.5-point underdogs to the Crimson Tide, according to the fine folks at VegasInsider.com.
Think about that for a second: No. 5 LSU is a 9.5-point underdog at home at night.
Talk about disrespect.
So how can LSU pull off the upset of the No. 1 Crimson Tide?
Finding a passing game is at the top of the list.
It seems like quality quarterbacks step foot on LSU's campus and immediately lose four starts, no matter how many they came in with. A functional, reliable passing game has been more myth than fiction ever since Ryan Perrilloux was dismissed from the program prior to the 2008 season.
This season is no different.
Zach Mettenberger has been woefully inconsistent for the Tigers this season, ranking ninth in the SEC with 177.4 yards per game, 11th in passing efficiency with passer rating of 124.4 and 11th in touchdown passes with seven—one fewer than Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith, who has only played in four games.
Mettenberger has been erratic under pressure, unable to stretch the field and has not lived up to the hype that followed him to Baton Rouge.
To the credit of head coach Les Miles, running the ball and playing defense has, for the most part, worked over the last few years. But last season against Alabama, the Tigers were out-played in Tuscaloosa and then got smoked in New Orleans in the BCS National Championship Game.
Maybe, just maybe, Miles learned his lesson from those games.
While LSU is talented, it can't rely on talent alone to topple the Tide. It's going to have to be a little bit more creative, which means that Miles may have to revert back to the "Mad Hatter" persona that made him so successful during the early part of his LSU coaching career.
LSU needs to play to win the game, not play not to lose it.
That means taking some risks on fourth down, throwing some wrinkles into the offense and perhaps a fake punt or field goal to keep Alabama honest.
Doing so isn't admitting that you're out-manned, it just means that you know you're in for a fight and are punching back.
Who will win on Saturday night in Death Valley?
Defensively, the key to slowing down the efficient Alabama offense is to force the Tide into uncharacteristic mistakes.
Defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are certainly capable of harassing quarterback AJ McCarron. Granted, that's a tall order considering the talent across the board on Alabama's offensive line. But if any team is capable of doing it, it's LSU.
LSU has the talent to spring the upset on Saturday night, but it's going to have to play better than it has this season—particularly in the passing game—if it wants to gain control of the SEC West.
But on a Saturday night in Death Valley, crazier things have happened.