LSU heads to Alabama in Week 11, and Saturday is the critical SEC matchup everyone's had circled on their calendar since the beginning of the season.
Both teams feature recognizable stars, but both teams also feature head coaches who are known for drawing up effective game plans to minimize the impact those stars can have on the game. Often, this presents a prime opportunity for role players to step up and make game-changing plays.
The Tigers enter the game with a 7-2 record, having lost close battles against Georgia and Ole Miss. Predictably, Alabama is undefeated, with its closest win coming against Texas A&M in the beginning of the season.
These following players have a rare opportunity to make a big name for themselves as X-factors in this upcoming contest. Though they aren't as highly touted as their nationally known teammates, they'll decide the contest with good play or bad.
Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
Alabama loves to pound opposing defenses into submission with its potent rushing attack. As a team, the Crimson Tide has rushed for 1,686 yards (5.9 yards per carry) with 19 touchdowns.
Needless to say, Louisiana State must find a way to shut down this offensive spigot and force A.J. McCarron to win the game with his arm. If 'Bama is able to run the ball down LSU's throat, the game will probably be over before it starts.
Enter Ego Ferguson, a junior defensive tackle who has found his niche on LSU's defensive line as a space-eating, run-stuffing, backfield-penetrating monster. He's been involved in 42 tackles, has 3.5 tackles for a loss and registered his first sack of his career earlier this season against Kent State.
Ferguson has also shown an ability to make impact plays on special teams. He blocked a field goal against Ole Miss, as SI.com's Stewart Mandel noted:
Ego Ferguson blocks a chip shot FG that would have put Ole Miss up 10 w/ 6:29 left. LSU still alive.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) October 20, 2013
If Ferguson has a monster game and the Tigers shut down 'Bama's running game, then LSU has a legitimate shot of winning this contest.
A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
From one defensive tackle to another, Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson is a player you'll want to watch closely when LSU has the ball.
The true freshman is an absolute terror, and he's really coming on strong as of late. At 6'4" and 320 pounds, Robinson features phenomenal strength and quickness. Through seven games, the young pup has already racked up five tackles for a loss and four sacks.
Perhaps ESPN's Todd McShay said it best after studying tape of this young man-child:
Studying AL DEF . DT #86 A'Shawn Robinson is a force. Shocked he's true-FR. Consistently collapsing pocket w/ power. LSU better have a plan— Todd McShay (@McShay13) November 5, 2013
He'll be especially valuable to 'Bama as an interior pass-rusher. Zach Mettenberger is a big, strong and tall passer, but he isn't particularly mobile. When he takes on heavy pressure up the gut, he doesn't have the agility to recover gracefully.
Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
When LSU's top playmakers are mentioned, wide receiver Jarvis Landry is often overlooked in favor of Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill and fellow receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who is the team's big-play threat.
However, it would be foolish to forget about the immense contributions Landry has made throughout the season as the team's primary possession receiver.
In nine games this season, he's caught 58 passes for 882 yards and eight touchdowns—including this gem against Ole Miss, as shown by ESPN College Football:
He's Mettenberger's go-to receiver in tight spots, and based on the way Alabama's defense has played this year, LSU will be in plenty of those on Saturday.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Alabama
T.J. Yeldon is unquestionably the top running back on Alabama's team, but Kenyan Drake's abilities as a receiver out of the backfield could break the game open for the Crimson Tide in this contest.
Though he's only caught nine passes this year, Drake has averaged 12.9 yards per reception and scored a touchdown. He's a more natural receiver than Yeldon, and his quickness in the open field means he can score on any given play.
Drake's no slouch as a runner, either, averaging 7.8 yards a pop and scoring seven touchdowns—including this gorgeous 46-yard scamper against Arkansas:
Watch: Kenyan Drake rush for 46 yards for a TOUCHDOWN. http://t.co/36eFSYb2fg— ESPN Alabama (@ESPNAlabama) October 20, 2013
LSU's defense is extremely physical at the point of attack, and Yeldon will need to be spelled often. Drake has a chance to have a monster game as a change-of-pace runner and receiver—in which case he'd certainly help 'Bama's undefeated season roll along for another week.
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