LSU vs. Alabama: Keys to Victory for Both Sides in Pivotal SEC Clash

Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2013

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 03:  LSU Quarterback Zach Mettenberger #8 looks for an open receiver while playing Alabama at Tiger Stadium on November 3, 2012 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide will face one of their most difficult tests of the season when they welcome the No. 13 LSU Tigers to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night. 

If it's felt like Alabama hasn't played since the highly hyped Sept. 14 rematch against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, it's because they've been busy running over the rest of their schedule. The Tide have played just one ranked team since their 49-42 win in College Station and have been systematically tearing opponents apart ever since. 

On the other end of the spectrum is LSU. This year's team from Baton Rouge isn't quite the national contender we've seen in the past, but they've still only lost two games by a combined six points. 

Given Les Miles' penchant for playing Nick Saban tough, there's enough evidence to believe this is going to be a game worth watching. 

Here's what each team must do to pick up the win. 


Keys for LSU

Offense: Get Zach Mettenberger in Rhythm Early

ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 28: Zach Mettenberger #8 of the LSU Tigers passes against the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

In case you haven't had the opportunity to watch Alabama's defense this year, it's good. 

Once again, the Tide lead the nation in scoring defense at 9.8 points allowed per game behind a cast of players who will soon be playing on Sundays. 

So how does LSU make progress against a defense that has allowed only three teams to score 10 or more points this season?

By going right back to what made them successful against the defense last season. Although the Tigers ultimately lost, the 2012 matchup served as Zach Mettenberger's coming out party. After eight games of middling production as the LSU starter, he threw for 298 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

This year, the Alabama secondary would appear to be just as, if not more, vulnerable to a productive Mettenberger. The Tide allowed Johnny Manziel to throw for 464 yards earlier this season, as they had no answer for the size of A&M receiver Mike Evans. 

Mettenberger might not have an equivalent to Evans in terms of size, but the duo of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the best you'll see in the SEC.

If the Tigers can get a lead, they can turn to Jeremy Hill and the rest of their physical running attack. But they'll have to prove Mettenberger is a threat through the air first. If he throws three interceptions like he did against Ole Miss, this one will get ugly quick.


Defense: Force Alabama to Run the Ball

This game has traditionally been a slugfest in which both teams try to force the other to throw the ball. This year, LSU must look to take away the big plays in the passing game and force Bama to run the ball against them. 

This LSU defense is athletic, but as Michael Felder of Bleacher Report points out in the above video, they're prone to give up the big play in the passing game. 

Aaron Murray threw for four touchdowns with just one interception and 298 yards in their 44-41 loss to the Bulldogs. If A.J. McCarron can post a similar stat line, it's going to be too difficult for LSU's offense to do the same to Alabama's defense. 


Keys for Alabama

Offense: Start Fast

Oct 5, 2013; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron (10) throws a pass against the Georgia State Panthers during the first quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

It's important to note that home-field advantage hasn't meant a whole lot in this rivalry game. According to ESPN Stats & Info, road teams fare well in these games. 

Since 1970, the road team has won 29 of the 43 meetings between @LSUfball and Alabama.

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 9, 2013

That's why Alabama needs to get off to a good start and make sure they take advantage of what's going to be a raucous crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium. 

Essentially, the Tide have played in four close games in the last two years: both Texas A&M games, the 2012 SEC championship against Georgia and the 2012 LSU game. The combined first quarter score in those four games was opponent 37, Alabama 7. 

If the Tide can get a few early scores from the passing game, they can lean heavily on a rushing game that's averaging 210.8 yards per contest to take them to victory. 


Defense: Get to Mettenberger

For all of the things that the Alabama Crimson Tide do well on defense, there's one thing they've struggled to do this season—get to the quarterback. 

Yes, the Tide are the nation's top scoring defense and fifth in yards allowed, but they come in at an underwhelming 109th in the country with just 11 sacks in eight games. Freshman A'Shawn Robinson leads the team with four sacks, but the team doesn't have any one player who has stood out as a pass-rushing force. 

The problem with all of this is that Mettenberger holds the key to beating Alabama. If the Crimson Tide can make him feel pressure like Ole Miss did when they forced him into three interceptions while sacking him three times, it's hard to envision the Tigers scoring many points. 

However, if Alabama gives him time to find Landry and Beckham downfield, we may see another epic chapter added to this storied rivalry.