When LSU and Alabama meet on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, the game will feature two tremendous running backs that both offenses use to set the tone in their respective scheme.
The Tigers' Jeremy Hill and the Crimson Tide's T.J. Yeldon have both inserted themselves into the discussion for top running back in the SEC this year.
After sitting out the first game of the year and playing only a minimal role in the Tigers' second game, Hill has exploded onto the scene, rushing for 922 yards, 12 touchdowns and topping the 100-yard mark in five games this season.
Meanwhile, Yeldon has rushed for 729 yards and 10 touchdowns this season for head coach Nick Saban's crew. As the No. 1 running back in Tuscaloosa, his responsibility is to help the Tide build a big lead, and then he typically takes a seat on the bench in the second half as the reserves tie a bow on the game.
So who will have the edge in the battle of star running backs on Saturday night?
|Player||Rush Yards||YPG||YPC||Rush TDs||Runs of 20+ Yds|
|Jeremy Hill - LSU||922||115.25||7.20||12||7|
|T.J. Yeldon - Alabama||729||91.13||6.34||10||10|
Based off of the numbers, it should be Hill. But make no mistake, the 6'2", 218-pound Yeldon will be more of a factor this weekend.
The reason is simple—Alabama is more likely to stick with Yeldon for a longer period of time, which will keep the LSU offense off the field and, potentially, could result in big plays of their own for the Crimson Tide.
LSU head coach Les Miles knows how good Yeldon is.
"He's a big back that has nice touch, good vision," LSU head coach Les Miles said in quotes released by the university. "And to me, again, very talented back."
This game will be like a boxing match between two heavyweights who feel each other out for the first two or three quarters. While both have the horses to do that, establishing the run will be more of a priority for the Crimson Tide, which should give Yeldon more carries early on, whereas LSU will be more likely to open things up and take a shot early to soften up the defense.
"They have a great game plan," LSU defensive tackle Ego Ferguson said in quotes released by LSU. "They hit the zone running and play the stop action off of that, and it looks the same. So you have to read the blocks off that and just play technique.”
The knockout punch won't come early for Alabama. The Crimson Tide will grind until LSU's safeties have no choice but to creep up and then take advantage off of play action.
LSU, on the other hand, will be more likely to come off of its running back and hand quarterback Zach Mettenberger the keys to the offense. With wide receivers like Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, it's not a bad game plan, but it will minimize Hill's impact.
It's nothing against Hill.
He has established himself as one of the premier running backs in college football and can certainly handle the load. But Mettenberger nearly won this game last season with a sizzling performance in Baton Rouge, and if there is a weak spot on Alabama's defense, it's in the secondary.
Safety Vinnie Sunseri is done for the season after tearing a knee ligament versus Arkansas on Oct. 19, and one cornerback spot has seen a revolving door of players, including John Fulton, Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson and Cyrus Jones.
Who will have more rushing yards on Saturday night?
Sylve should be the guy at cornerback for the Tide opposite Deion Belue. However, as noted by Andrew Gribble of AL.com, his status is uncertain after injuring his ankle against Arkansas.
"Bradley had done a really good job and then he got injured so Cyrus has done a pretty good job since that time," Saban said.
A "pretty good job" still creates a bit of uncertainty, which Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will test.
This will be a relatively conservative game. LSU will take more early shots, which will not only take Hill out of the game to an extent, but it will also reinforce Alabama's game plan. That will make it more important for the Tide to keep the Tigers' offense on the sideline with a ground-and-pound approach behind Yeldon.
Two great running backs will be on display on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, and both have the ability to be game-changers. Yeldon will have the edge on Saturday night, thanks to a more conservative game plan from Alabama that will give him plenty of early touches.