Crimson Tide-Tigers: Keys to the Game and Key Matchups as Alabama battles LSU
Though much of the country will focus on the BCS buster matchup between TCU and Utah, another game with huge BCS implications will be played in Baton Rouge. Sixth-ranked Alabama rolls into town to play 10th-ranked LSU.
Both teams still have BCS title aspirations, although 'Bama has a little bit more control. With the toughest remaining schedule of any team, Alabama must win out to have a shot at the title.
They must first beat LSU, then go on and best top-ranked Auburn and a ranked Mississippi State team. After that, they'll have to win the SEC title game for a shot at the BCS title game.
LSU needs just a little more luck. They too must win out and then hope that Georgia or Alabama beats Auburn to give them a spot in the SEC title game and a chance to make it to the BCS title game.
Both teams are 7-1 and 4-1 in SEC play. Let's take a look at some of the keys to victory and some of the key matchups.
Alabama's Offensive Line Vs. LSU's Defensive Line
Games are won and lost in the trenches, and in this game, LSU must disrupt Heisman Trophy Winner Mark Ingram and Greg McElroy.
Alabama Offensive Line
Last season, Alabama's offensive line dominated opponents and paved the way for a Heisman Trophy. Though Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson's YPC average is improved this season, the offensive line has not been as successful. Alabama has actually leaned on the passing game more, calling an average of seven fewer rushing plays per game this season.
Additionally, the LSU defense is too fast for Alabama to run sweeps. They have to pound the ball up the middle and attack DT Drake Nevis. Nevis is a disruptive player, but traps and double teams could be effective against the undersized tackle.
To be effective, and to keep LSU honest, they have to be able to run the ball on the road. Grinding drives demoralize opponents and neutralize crowds.
LSU Defensive Line
The LSU defensive line can win the game for the Tigers if they can completely bottle up the Crimson Tide rushing attack. LSU only gives up 3.5 YPC to opposing running backs, and need to maintain or outperform this mark to win this game.
At home, look for the this defense to be fired up and aggressive early. I wouldn't expect LSU to give up much on the ground, especially early in the game.
Advantage: LSU Defensive line
LSU's Offensive Line Vs. Alabama's Defensive Line
LSU Offensive Line
LSU's offensive line faces a stiff challenge this week. Though not as dominant as a season ago, thanks in part to the absence of Terrence Cody up front, the Alabama defense will likely load the box. To have success on offense, this line needs to get Stevan Ridley running north and south.
If this offensive line can manage to maintain Stevan Ridley's 4.8 YPC average alive this week, look for LSU to have some success. Additionally, the Alabama defensive line hasn't given up many long runs this season. The LSU line, then, must get consistent push and be content to grind out drives.
Alabama Defensive Line
This line is only giving up 113 yards in the rushing game. This week, look for Alabama to try and crowd the line of scrimmage, helping out their line with linebackers and safeties.
Alabama is unlikely to respect the passing attack of the Tigers and will be focused primarily on shutting down the run. In all likelihood, they should be pretty successful since Ridley isn't a explosive guy.
Advantage: Alabama defensive line
The Kicking Game
Though this obviously isn't a sexy matchup, it could be important in a game dominated by defensive lines.
Alabama is solid on special teams. Alabama's kicker, Jeremy Shelley, is 8-11 on the season, and has decent range. He's not automatic, however, having missed inside 30 yards this season. Cody Mandell has been an effective punter and must continue to average more than 40 yards per punt to help Alabama win the field position battle.
LSU on the other hand, has some of the best kickers in the nation. Josh Jasper is 14-17 on the season and hasn't missed inside 30 yards this season. In the punting game, Derek Helton and Jasper are both averaging more than 40 yards per kick and Jasper has been particularly effective at pinning teams deep in their own territory.
Patrick Peterson is one of the better return men in the country. Alabama must look to kick away from him, or they could pay the price.
Also, don't forget that Les Miles is crazy, and not afraid to fake some kicks.
In any game, the turnover margin plays a big role. But in this game, which figures to be relatively low scoring given LSU's defensive dominance and their relative weakness on offense, turnovers are doubly important.
Alabama, for the season, is +8 in turnover margin while LSU is -2 on the season.
LSU must not give up deflating turnovers, especially interceptions. That's easier said than done however, since the quarterbacks have combined to throw nine interceptions this season.
Alabama does a pretty good job taking care of the football, and Richardson and Ingram are not particularly fumble prone.
Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee Vs. Alabama's Secondary
Much to the chagrin of LSU fans, Les Miles has continued to rotate between Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee.
Jefferson is clearly the more effective runner while Lee is a much better passer. Jefferson has thrown eight interceptions and only two touchdowns, while Lee has thrown two touchdowns and one interception. In Jefferson's defense, he has had quite a few more reps.
Because LSU ranks 113th in passing yards, Alabama is unlikely to respect the vertical passing game of the Tigers. Look for lots of run and pass blitz and man coverage on the outside. If Lee and Jefferson can exploit those matchups and find Rueben Randle and Terrence Toliver early, LSU could have success on offense. This, however, hasn't happened for most of the season and Alabama is the best defensive team that LSU has seen.
That, combined with the extra prep time that 'Bama has had for this game guarantees that Lee and Jefferson will get lots of varied looks and disguised coverages.
Julio Jones Vs. Patrick Peterson
Julio Jones is the Crimson Tide's top deep threat, and one of the better receivers in college football. He will face off against LSU's Patrick Peterson, arguably the top corner in college football.
Last season Jones managed over 100 yards receiving against the Tiger defense, but those statistics dont tell the story of this matchup. Those yards came against different players, and Peterson actually dominated Jones when they were matched up against one another. Jones uses his size and speed to beat corners, but Peterson is 6'2" and every bit as fast as Jones.
Greg McElroy would be smart to look elsewhere if Peterson is matched up on Julio Jones.
While LSU is playing at home, in the notoriously loud and affectionately named "Death Valley", they will not be able to overcome their old coach, Nick Saban and Alabama.
While this is sure to be a low scoring affair, I like the Alabama receivers to make some plays. McElroy will look away from Peterson and have some success. Neither Ingram nor Richardson will have big days, but they will get some tough yards.
LSU's offense just isn't good enough to get it done against this Alabama defense. Though not as good as last year, they should be able to load up against the run and try and make LSU beat them through the air. I don't think Jefferson and Lee are good enough to do that.
Prediction: 20-13 Alabama Wins