When LSU hosts Alabama on Saturday night in Death Valley, it will be another in a long line of big-time matchups between the two juggernauts of the SEC West.
The Tigers enter with a loss on their resume and as 8.5-point underdogs, according to VegasInsider.com, but Les Miles' crew still has the talent to compete with—and beat—the mighty Crimson Tide.
The question is, what must each team shut down in order to leave Baton Rouge with a win?
For Alabama, it's simple.
The Crimson Tide must shut down LSU's vaunted running game.
On the heels of a talented corps of running backs, the Tigers have posted the SEC's third-best running game, averaging 208.38 yards on the ground per game.
Freshman Jeremy Hill is the latest in the stable of Tiger running backs to emerge as a legitimate threat. He has rushed for more than 120 yards in each of LSU's last two games, which just so happen to be against South Carolina and Texas A&M, both of which are in the top half of the SEC in run defense.
If Alabama can shut down LSU's rushing attack—and since the Tide is only giving up 57.25 yards per game on the ground this season, it's a reasonable possibility—it will force quarterback Zach Mettenberger to beat them.
That's about as likely as me winning the Presidential election next week on write-in votes.
That means guys like linebackers C.J. Mosley and Nico Johnson will have to have big games.
Mettenberger has been a major disappointment in 2012.
He came to Baton Rouge with hopes of the Tiger offense stretching the field in tow. Instead, he's become the sequel to the Jordan Jefferson/Jarrett Lee nightmare.
He ranks 11th in the SEC in passing efficiency with a 124.4 passer rating and has completed just 56.6 percent of his passes.
That won't cut it against this Alabama defense.
If Alabama shuts down the running game and puts the game in the hands of Mettenberger, the Tide will roll in convincing fashion.
So what can LSU do to prevent that from happening?
The Tiger defense needs to do its offense several favors and force Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron to make some mistakes.
The problem is, he doesn't make any mistakes.
That's not an exaggeration. He really doesn't. The junior signal-caller for the Crimson Tide has 18 touchdowns and zero interceptions this season.
While McCarron deserves a ton of credit for that, some of that credit should go to his offensive line, which has kept opposing defenses at bay for the majority of the season.
That's where LSU can do its most damage, though. Barkevious Mingo is one of the fastest rushers off the edge in college football; and with four sacks on the season, fellow defensive end Sam Montgomery is no slouch himself.
Mingo versus Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker is the matchup to watch. If Mingo can force McCarron to get rid of the ball early or roll to his left, the chances for him to make a mistake will go up.
If LSU can get McCarron uncomfortable in the pocket, it will go a long way toward the Tigers springing the upset.
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