Though the Alabama Crimson Tide nearly played the LSU Tigers to a stalemate in their first battle, the Tigers will dominate the rematch in the 2012 BCS Championship.
LSU has stomped all comers this season, beating six teams that finished in the final BCS rankings, including three of the top six.
Only Alabama was able to keep the game within single digits, and the Tigers certainly didn't bring their best effort in that game. Since escaping Tuscaloosa unscathed, LSU returned to form, hammering its remaining opponents by an average of 34 points per game.
LSU is the best team in the country. The Tigers have proven it all season. On January 9th in New Orleans, they’ll do it again.
In the first matchup between LSU and Alabama, Tyrann Mathieu was less than his Honey Badgering self. While he continued to play with his trademark aggression, his zeal was misplaced, creating more negatives than positives.
The stats bear it out. The Alabama game was the only game all season in which Mathieu failed to make a disruptive play on defense. He didn’t break up a pass, force a fumble or make a tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
As absent as he was on defense, Mathieu was even less involved on special teams. The Alabama game was the only contest all year in which Mathieu didn’t attempt a punt return. He averaged over 16 yards per return against everybody else.
His only memorable moment was a 15-yard personal foul penalty.
Alabama certainly deserves some credit for neutralizing Mathieu, but avoiding him didn’t come without consequence.
Morris Claiborne, an All-American in his own right, is no easy target. After picking off one pass and breaking up another in the first matchup, I don’t suspect that A.J. McCarron will be in a hurry to challenge Claiborne again.
Alabama’s handling of Mathieu in the first game was impressive, but it’s awfully tough to shut out a Heisman finalist twice. He was unstoppable in both of the Tigers’ last two games; I expect the Honey Badger will be back to his old self in the rematch.
One of Alabama’s biggest strengths of defense is its ability to confuse opposing passers. The Tide shuffle personnel around before the snap and drop into a seemingly endless variety of zone blitz looks.
Rather than counter this by crafting a complicated scheme, LSU simplifies its approach for Jordan Jefferson. The Tigers lean heavily on the run game, using Jefferson’s skill on the option to keep the defense honest. Most teams can’t take this approach against Alabama, but with a quarterback like Jefferson and a stacked stable of running backs, LSU has the talent and depth to succeed on the ground against the Tide.
That success creates space for Jefferson in the play-action passing game. On top of that, LSU will use designed rollouts and half-field reads to simplify the game for Jefferson and force the Alabama defense to defend both the run and the pass.
When he does go to the air, Jefferson has weapons that can burn Alabama down the field, but more importantly, he has the restraint not to force the ball when his receivers aren’t open. He’s thrown only one interception in his 83 pass attempts this season.
Jordan Jefferson isn’t going to set any passing records. He only threw 10 passes back on November 5th, but his 6.7 yards per attempt topped Alabama’s season average by nearly two-and-a-half yards per pass. Jefferson has already moved the ball successfully against the Crimson Tide; there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again.
Alabama is aggressive on defense and responsible on offense. As a result, the Crimson Tide have maintained an excellent turnover margin this season. Nick Saban’s defense has forced 18 turnovers, and his offense has surrendered just 12.
Against most teams, Alabama has an advantage in this department.
LSU isn’t most teams. The Tigers have put up a historic turnover differential this season. The defense has created 30 turnovers, and the offense has given the ball away only eight times. That plus-22 advantage is the best in college football.
Certainly, it’s important to remember that Alabama and LSU each turned the ball over twice in their earlier matchup, but it’s also important to remember that both of LSU’s turnovers came off the arm of Jarrett Lee, who likely won’t see the field on January 9th.
Turnovers are notoriously difficult to predict and undoubtedly depend on some element of luck, but LSU’s defense has been able to create havoc with remarkable consistency. The Tigers haven’t lost the turnover battle yet this season and have won it by two or more on seven occasions.
In a game that figures to be another defensive struggle, field position will be huge. Unfortunately, it’s not likely that either team will be able to tilt the field in its favor.
When Alabama and LSU hooked up back in November, both teams began their average drive inside their own 25 yard line. Neither team began a drive inside its opponents’ territory.
Both offenses can expect to be backed up for most of the game, which makes big plays all the more important. It’s awfully tough to go 10 plays and 80 yards against a great defense, and it’s even more treacherous against an LSU defense that forces turnovers at a dizzying rate.
Unless Trent Richardson finds a way to chunk off yardage against a defense that allows just 2.6 yards per carry, Alabama will have to stretch the field through the air. That’s not good news for a team that has completed only 34 passing plays of over 20 yards this season, ranking 70th out of 120 FBS teams.
On the other side of the ball, LSU has allowed only 22 pass plays of more than 20 yards this season—second-best in the nation.
That mark becomes even more impressive considering that the Tigers have accomplished it even while facing big-play machines like Oregon, West Virginia and Arkansas.
Unless Alabama can suddenly transform into an offense of that caliber, LSU just might hold the Tide out of the end zone again.
Nick Saban’s Alabama teams do many things well, but since Saban came to town, the Tide’s greatest strength has been stopping the run.
Alabama has finished in the Top 10 in the country in rush defense in each of the last four seasons, ranking first or second three times.
A reputation like that doesn’t go unnoticed. In many cases, Alabama’s opponents choose to avoid the run, assuming that an attempt to break through Saban's defense on the ground would just be a waste of a down. As a result, only one team has attempted to run the ball more than 40 times against the Tide. That team was LSU.
In their first matchup with Alabama, the Tigers churned out 3.6 yards per carry on 41 attempts. It doesn’t seem impressive at first, against a Crimson Tide defense that only averaged 2.5 yards per rush this season; it’s downright spectacular.
LSU is uniquely equipped to wear down the Alabama run defense. Five Tigers have attempted more than 50 rushes this season; all of them average at least four yards per carry.
Just as they did in early November, LSU will use its deep roster of runners to punish the Crimson Tide front. Even a defense as well-coached as Alabama will crack eventually, and when it does, the Tigers will seize the opportunity.