The LSU Tigers will host Alabama on Saturday night to do battle with the Tide in a huge SEC matchup. The game will have LSU giving top-ranked Alabama everything it can handle, highlighted by a strong Tigers' rushing performance.
From the way they've played, it's silly to think that anybody could give Alabama any trouble at all. Nick Saban's Tide is a fantastically complete team. So much so that South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was recently claiming they could compete against NFL teams.
Now before anybody gets into that discussion, I'm sure Spurrier was just using the hyperbole to comment on the strength of Alabama. Regardless of whether or not it could happen, the claim just emphasizes what we've seen all season.
Alabama is the clear-cut top team in college football, and there are few teams that have shown they have what it takes to compete with them.
Why, then, will LSU's running game, against Alabama's best run defense, allow them to do so? Well, according to those base stats, there is no reason to suggest that.
I'm sure I don't have to tell you, though, that stats aren't everything.
The two teams seem to match up pretty evenly. Neither is a real offensive powerhouse, but that's not a slight on their offenses. It's more a reflection on how well they both play defensively because they don't need to go and offset horrible defense with high score totals.
That's where I think it will work to LSU's advantage.
When these two teams met last November, the game was an epic defensive standoff with LSU just pulling it out in the end. The quality of the two defenses gives no reason to believe the game won't be similarly low scoring.
The teams know it too.
For the most part, Alabama's strong defense has allowed their offense to get off to strong starts against their opponents. This, in turn, puts pressure on the opposing offense to play catch-up. In order to do so, their opponents often rely more on passing than rushing, and that's when they get swallowed up by the Alabama defensive trap.
While most of the talk is about the run defense, the Tide's passing defense is ranked second in the nation, and so the trap, not surprisingly, boasts the second-highest turnover margin in the country.
Alabama knows, though, that this game will come down to rushing, and with the best rushing defense they feel confident that they can stop LSU. LSU, however, is not like any of the other team's Alabama has faced this season.
The Tigers offer the best rushing offense that Alabama has faced so far. While that doesn't normally mean a team will succeed, especially against the best run defense, it is important to note about LSU because the Tiger's running game is the key to victory.
Not to slight Tigers QB Zach Mettenberger, because he's been good, and it's his skill that has helped clear space for the rushing offense. However, for all the potential he has shown at the position, the Tigers are all about the running game.
LSU boasts more than a handful of backs who have rushed for over 100 yards. Having two guys on your team with 100-plus yards is good, but six? Again, it just speaks volumes for the strength of LSU's running game. This type of balance will give Alabama's run defense it's toughest challenge yet.
For all the balance the running game has, and it will be on display in this game for LSU, the standout to me, will be freshman Jeremy Hill. He's not the first-choice back, but that's why he could be so dangerous. While the Tide defense surely will know all the backs, their attention will be on the main duo of Kenny Hilliard and Michael Ford.
That's where Hill can come in and add to his already impressive totals, which are impressive not because he's a freshman, but because of when he tallies them. Hill averages around 65 yards against conference teams and over 85 yards against AP-ranked teams (h/t cfbstats). He's the best back on the team in those games.
Look at that — Alamaba plays in the SEC and is a ranked team.
Alright, joking aside, the Tigers and the Tide have had great football games over the years, and have forged one of the best rivalries college football has to offer. This game will be no different. It will be chock full of action, tough defense and clutch decision-making.
LSU's potent running game and defense means they won't won't fall into the Alabama defensive trap. They will just continue to pound away and hope to break through that stingy Tide rushing defense.
With a plethora of strong running backs (again, I say watch for Jeremy Hill) there's no reason to doubt that the Tiger's running game will be able to succeed against even the strongest rushing defense in the country.