Alabama vs. LSU: Who Has the Edge Position-by-Position?
There has been very little that separates rivals Alabama and LSU over the last six years, coinciding with the beginning of Nick Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa.
The two teams have split the last six meetings in the series, with both schools capturing a national title in that span—including the Tide’s 21-0 win over the hated Tigers in last season’s BCS national championship game.
When the two titans collide on Saturday night in Death Valley, the talent level on the field will in all likelihood surpass any other game in college in terms of NFL prospects participating.
Both squads have dealt with attrition, but Saban and Les Miles each have rosters loaded with skilled athletes at nearly every spot in their respective lineups.
How do the Tide and the Tigers stack up against one another when broken down by position?
Find out inside as I break down each segment and project which teams holds the edge at each unit.
Alabama junior A.J. McCarron has picked up where he left off from the last time he faced the Tigers in January.
That flawless effort against LSU has propelled his game to the next level in 2012—with McCarron completing a shade less than 69 percent of his passes and tossing 18 touchdowns without an interception.
LSU counters with first-year starter Zach Mettenberger—who has struggled mightily for most of the season and is averaging completing just 44 percent of his passes in SEC play.
In a game where any and every mistake could prove fatal, McCarron gives the Tide a significant edge at quarterback.
Both teams have a stable of backs capable of shouldering the load in a game of this magnitude.
Despite losing Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart to season-ending knee injuries, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon have formed one of the nation’s top duos—combining for 1,245 yards and 14 touchdowns while netting more than six yards per carry.
Even after losing starter Alfred Blue last month, LSU now uses four backs that combine to mirror the production (1,354 yards, 14 touchdowns) of the Tide’s ball-carriers.
Tigers true freshman Jeremy Hill may yet to have the buzz garnered by Yeldon, but he’s come up huge by rushing for more than 100 yards in LSU’s last two wins over South Carolina and Texas A&M.
Being that LSU is at home and has a numbers advantage, it gets the nod in a coin flip.
Both teams primarily use four receivers, with Alabama freshman sensation Amari Cooper leading the Tide’s quartet and LSU super sophomore Odell Beckham, Jr. spearheading the Tigers pass-catching unit.
The other three main contributors for the Tide—juniors Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, plus sophomore Christion Jones—are the main difference in the Tide’s improved passing attack, giving McCarron several weapons to choose from.
LSU’s complementary targets have posted decent numbers, but the combination of Mettenberger’s struggles and the shuffling along the offensive line has limited the receivers’ opportunities and production.
McCarron appears to have found a rhythm and developed a special chemistry with his receivers, which gives Alabama the edge here.
Alabama senior tight end Michael Williams is the only tight end on either roster with more than five receptions and a touchdown reception on his resume this season.
Both teams heavily involve their tight ends as blockers in the running game, but the Crimson Tide have shown the capability to use them as receivers more so than the Tigers.
Alabama gets the edge.
Entering this season, both teams had offensive line units that would be the envy of most teams across the country.
Alabama’s group has remained dominant up front, and it is largely responsible for the Tide’s increased production in yards and points this season.
On the other hand, LSU has been racked with injuries and attrition—with the season-ending injury to star left tackle Chris Faulk serving as the biggest blow.
The Tigers still have one of the better lines in the SEC, but Alabama’s veteran front gets the nod due to the stability and experience of its unit.
Alabama and LSU employ different philosophies on defense, but both are equally effective and dominant—with both teams employing two of the nation’s stingiest units in the trenches.
Alabama’s three-man line is a trio of athletic immovable forces that eat up blockers and free up space for the Tide’s linebackers to wreak havoc.
LSU counters with a traditional four-man front that is deep and simply stacked with freakish talents that are adept at stuffing the run and harassing quarterbacks.
With game-changing studs like ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, plus a budding star in defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, LSU gets the nod here.
The roles are reversed at linebacker, with Alabama’s most destructive forces lining up in the middle level of its 3-4 scheme.
C.J. Mosley is having a banner season, but guys like Nico Johnson, Trey Depriest and Adrian Hubbard are players that every opponent must account for on each snap.
LSU’s group is led by junior Kevin Minter—who joined Mosley in recently being named as one of 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award (given to the nation’s best linebacker).
The Tigers' group is certainly solid, but Alabama’s unit possesses more difference-makers, and gets them the advantage.
These two schools combined to send three of the first four defensive backs taken in April’s NFL draft.
Despite each team’s losses, they both rank in the Top 5 nationally in passing defense this season.
Dee Milliner appears to be the next dominant corner molded by Saban that is destined to have NFL scouts drooling, but he has plenty of help from the likes of Robert Lester and Vinnie Sunseri.
LSU’s unit has not skipped a beat after the dismissal of Tyrann Mathieu—with veteran safeties Eric Reid and Craig Loston providing a steadying influence for emerging corners Jalen Mills and Tharold Simon.
This is another segment where both teams are evenly matched, but the Tide gets the nod by a hair.
Alabama’s duo of Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster appeared to bury their demons for their missteps in the regular season meeting after the Tide’s demolition of the Tigers in the rematch.
Shelley is perfect on his nine attempts this season, but Foster could be a concern if he’s called upon from long distance considering he missed his last two attempts against Tennessee two weeks ago.
LSU’s Drew Alleman—who ironically booted the game-winner in last November’s meeting—is dealing with struggles of his own, having missed a kick in four of the Tigers' last five games.
Considering Shelley booted five field goals against LSU in the national title game and his start to this season, the Tide appear to have the most confident kicker heading into this matchup.
Brad Wing is capable of helping the Tigers earn an advantage in field position thanks to his booming punts.
Wing—although not as effective as last season—is still averaging more than 44 yards per boot.
Alabama’s Cody Mandell has added nearly three yards per punt to his 38-yard average from last season, but Wing has proven his ability to have an impact in big games.
The loss of Mathieu may be felt the most in the return units for LSU, but Beckham has taken one punt to the house this season and is a dangerous threat with the ball in his hands.
Alabama has turned to true freshman Cyrus Jones to add a spark to its return units, and thus far, the electrifying receiver has stepped up to the challenge.
While this unit could be another that is considered a tossup, Jones' recent strong play tilts the scales in favor of the road team.
Miles and Saban are two of the best coaches in terms of developing the talent they are able to recruit, which is reflected in the high level of play both schools have maintained despite heavy attrition.
As it relates to this meeting, Alabama appears to be clicking on all cylinders while the Tigers seem to lack the same bite they showed during last season’s undefeated regular season.
While LSU is still capable of knocking off any team in the country in its backyard, the Tide possess the toughness, talent and leadership necessary to conquer the challenge of ending the Tigers 22-game winning streak in Death Valley.