This is the game that has been circled on the calendars of many LSU and Tide fans since that glorious day back in January of 2007.
Sure, last year’s meeting was special, but this time Saban will be traveling to the place that really put his name among the elite college football coaches in this country: Baton Rouge. Anyone who does not think there will be a lot of emotion surrounding this one either is out of touch with reality or has been hiding under some rock for the last several months.
I agree that the players may not have as much emotional attachment to this game as perhaps the fans. After all, none of the players for Alabama have any ties to anything LSU, and all of “Saban’s recruits” have left LSU.
Saban himself has stated numerous times that this game has no emotional tug at his heartstrings (like anyone actually thought Saban has heartstrings). Taking his typical businesslike approach, Saban is dismissing this as just another game on the schedule, another obstacle in the way of the Crimson Tide reaching their goals.
Do I believe that? Well, to be honest, I do. I do think Saban will have a few flashbacks as he enters Tiger Stadium for the first time since he left for the Miami Dolphins, but at the same time, I feel as if he is insensitive in a lot of ways and has a focus like very few have ever displayed.
He is so hard at work on the task at hand that I’m not sure he really does have the time to reflect on much. He is so focused he doesn’t have time to deal with all the outside hoopla and distractions that don’t really affect the game.
But the fans—yes, the fans—will be the emotional ones at this battleground, and that just adds fuel to the fire that is known as Death Valley. The only thing that may keep this stadium on its foundation is the fact that CBS has selected this game for the afternoon kickoff, thus nullifying Tiger fans of the joy they long for in wreaking havoc in the darkness of night.
And, oh yeah, a Crimson victory would secure a spot for Alabama in the SEC Championship Game as the Western Division champions, a feat that Bama has not accomplished yet this century.
So I would say this is a pretty significant game in a lot of ways.
Bama Will Win If...
1) The Tide applies the pressure up front on defense.
Alabama has the personnel to shut down most offensive attacks if they simply play within themselves, don't try to go beyond their own individual abilities, and rely on each other as a unit.
The change to the 3-4 defense just before the season began has been the saving grace for Bama in a lot of ways this season. Dominating the front line with three men, thanks to JUCO standout Terrence Cody, allows an extra linebacker to roam around as a virtual headhunter.
Usually that comes in the form of Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower, or converted safety Corey Reamer. Watch for the tackles being made throughout the game, and you will most likely see the numbers 25, 30, and 13 somewhere in the mix.
If the Tide defense can come out and continue to dominate the rushing game, as they have all season, then that puts all the pressure on young LSU QB Jarrett Lee. Once the rush is stopped, and Lee has been put under the pressure as well, we’ll see what type of ability he really has.
Add in a few licks from Bama’s quick corner blitz, and most likely they will have the Tigers’ offense contained.
2) The offensive line can dominate, as they are accustomed to.
Dominating the line of scrimmage is something many teams talk about doing. In Tuscaloosa, the big guys up front have actually been living up to it pretty consistently this season. If they come out and play Saturday like they are capable of doing, the Tide offense should be able to put up enough numbers to win this thing.
The Crimson Tide’s offensive line is perhaps one of the best in the country. In fact, the left side often opens up holes that even I would feel confident running through. Well, maybe not myself personally, but I do often have to pop my eyes back in place as they are widened as much as the lanes Coffee, Ingram, Upchurch, and Grant have had to run through all season.
On top of that, the pressure on John Parker Wilson has been kept to a minimum this season. That is why JPW has been able to manage the game. He doesn’t do anything flashy. He doesn’t pass for 300 yards. He simply has enough time and enough relief from defensive pressure to make the smart choice. That has improved his pass efficiency and has built his confidence.
Basically, if the Tide can dominate both lines of scrimmage, then you will see another great road win from this young team. That seems simple, I know, and one would think that controlling the line on both sides of the ball was a key factor in every game, for every team, but this really has been the game plan so far. It seems to work, so why change?
Bama Will Lose If...
1) LSU can cause Bama to make the most mistakes.
In big, tense games, both teams usually seem to make a few errors. What makes the difference, however, is who can control the mistakes to a minimum and who can overcome the big mistakes that do occur.
The Crimson Tide has prided itself on being mistake-free most of the season. In the UGA game Bama was virtually penalty-free, while UGA committed a huge roughing the passer penalty early in the game that gave the Tide a first down and extended what would have been a stalled drive to open the game. Bama took advantage and never looked back.
On the contraire, Bama made the most mistakes of the season during the Kentucky game as they continually committed some uncharacteristic penalties. That game, largely due to those mistakes, kept Kentucky in the game and gave Bama their worst scare of the season so far, as they managed to escape with a three-point victory.
Bama has been bitten with the fumble bug lately as well, particularly with Glen Coffee. If that occurs, and LSU takes advantage, it could be deadly for the Tide.
2) LSU can keep the first half close.
This will largely relate to how well LSU controls the mistakes, or how many they force Bama to make early, but if they can keep within 10 points or fewer at halftime, then they will have a shot at pulling this thing out.
Getting up on their foes early in the game is the second of Bama’s biggest prides this season, right behind not making mistakes, and they dearly want to hold on to this one. This has, however, hindered them as they seem to put things in cruise control for the second half and “coast” to the finish. That will eventually catch up with them, as it almost has in three games, if they don’t learn from this.
Hints of Bama learning to play in the second half came against Tennessee and Arkansas State, but I would by no means place this LSU team in a category with those two teams. A close halftime score could be the difference, as Bama often seems to run low in the second half. Last year’s meeting between the Tide and Tigers is a prime example of the “cruise control” that cost Bama the game.
Call it arrogant. Call it haughty. Call it what you will, but the attitudes have changed in T-Town, and to be quite honest, I was a little scared when I first thought about it.
Players have been coming forth making statements that sound like they have been programmed to become some mindless robot: “We have one mission, that is the next game, we don’t know anything else.”
Wow, Saban really has been transforming players. When I finally gathered myself, I realized that it was not some mindless chant. Rather, it was determination from a team that is working as one unified force.
When you can take on an attitude that the next game is the most important of the season, whether it is Central High School or USC, then you don’t have to worry about teams sneaking up on you.
That has been the word all year. Bama is going to allow some team to sneak up on them. Just wait and see.
When they managed to hang on for two straight weeks against Kentucky and Ole Miss, I think they finally realized that the cruise control no longer works. That being said, I believe Bama will be ready for any team they play, taking nothing lightly, but finishing the job they started.
All right, here goes. You can probably tell from most of my above comments who I think will win. You know I am a "Bammer," so you are probably just waiting to see the margin I predict. Right?
Well, I do think that while Bama has a ton of pressure on them to perform and live up to the number one ranking, and to protect the image of Nick Saban as he “returns home” this weekend. However, that pressure has been their driving force and what they have thrived off this season. That has been their motivation, and I predict it will be the same this weekend.
Alabama has been stellar on the road this season, outscoring their opponents by an average of 25 points, including the 20-point victory over rival Tennessee just two weeks ago.
Bama has also played better historically in Baton Rouge than they have at home. Factor in how well Bama has played on the road earlier this season, and you are looking at a recipe for victory.
LSU stole one from Bama in 2005, keeping the Tide from going to Atlanta and ending their dreams of having a perfect season. With a shot at going to the ATL on the line again this year, I think this squad has overcome too much and has everything right where they need it to be not to take advantage.
LSU’s victory over Auburn is looking less special right now. The victory over South Carolina looked like a solid win. However, the two losses are hard to overlook, particularly with the way they lost both games, with the Georgia debacle coming after everyone thought they had learned from the initial 50-plus points they had hung on them in the Swamp.
The Tigers are not terrible, but they are looking more like a middle of the pack team. They struggled somewhat with an MSU team that even Tennessee was able to dismantle.
Does LSU have enough in the tank to pull this one out? Is there enough emotion and adrenaline to transfer from the stands onto the field? Can they somehow catch lightning in a bottle to knock off such a determined Crimson Tide team?
I think LSU has too much to overcome this season with a young quarterback. I think Bama has too much determination to let up now.
Bama 28, LSU 16
Check out Brian Scott's take on how he thinks LSU will do in this epic battle.