The Calm Before The Storm: LSU Alabama Preview

by Zach Bingham aka, the guy manning the @theoktc Twitter account.

This Saturday will once again solidify why the south dominates the world of college football. LSU – Alabama is no doubt the most anticipated game of the year and with CBS getting their wish of moving this epic battle to primetime, ESPN will sadly weep in the corner with one eye open.

 
Knowing that Verne Lundquist is preparing his voice for a record setting “Oh My!” catchphrases on Saturday, I felt inclined to prepare a statistical analysis of my own for this week’s blockbuster brawl.

Quarterback 

Alabama: Seems that AJ McCarron’s chest tat has served him well this season as the sophomore QB has ten touchdowns on the year with only three interceptions. McCarron relies so heavily on the Bama run game, his arm hasn’t been tested in much capacity. With a completion percentage of 67%, McCarron has an accurate arm on short intermediate passes but gets help from his receivers YAC yards (yards after the catch) a bit too much (a good problem to have). The LSU defense should come into this game looking to stack the box against a fierce Crimson Tide rushing attack and make McCarron sling the ball down field for first downs. Accuracy better be this young quarterbacks friend on Saturday or the young Bama ball handler will have his hands full with a savvy Bengal secondary.
 
LSU: Jarrett Lee has played, well, unlike anything we expected. 13 touchdowns and only one interception all year has silenced the preseason critics and made Jordan Jefferson’s elaborate shoe collection a forgotten memory. The shocking thing that Lee has done this season is attack defenses down the field. Statistics show that Lee is almost guaranteed to complete a pass over 44 yards on Saturday and in the month of October his yard-per-attempt is nearing 10 yards per pass. BUT. Lee hasn’t faced a defense like Alabama yet. The Tide’s defense is only giving up a touchdown per game and with Lee’s history beyond this season, the turnover monster could be ready to rare its ugly head. If LSU gets down early, Les Miles will have no problem letting Jordan Jefferson enter in relief. After the rope Jefferson threw to wide out Rueben Randle against Auburn two weeks ago (as did Lee), we know this Bengal backup has ability to connect with receivers down field.
 
Favors:
 
LSU – Combining Lee and Jefferson, the Tigers ink this position over McCarron by a chest hair.

Running Back

 
Alabama: A Heisman candidate/fine men’s clothing connoisseur highlights this position.
 
 
We are talking about Trent Richardson and his 989 yards rushing, 17 touchdowns, and 6.6 yards per carry average. #3 is running with a purpose and with back up tail back Eddie Lacy still producing despite a nagging toe injury, Bama’s backfield is damn near impossible to stop. Averaging 229.3 yards on the ground per game, the Tide are 14th in the country rushing the football. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a plethora of wildcat formations on game day because historically Nick Saban sticks with his bread and butter when it comes crunch time and his team needs to pick up yards.
 
LSU: On paper this one looks like a landslide for Alabama but LSU’s run game is not one to overlook. The Tigers are 30th in the nation when it comes to running the football and have 352 attempts under their belt, which is 38 more than Alabama. Running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford have seen their fair share of six point scampers this season. Though Ware was suspended against Auburn, both of these feature backs have 6 end zone appearances apiece and are averaging nearly 5 yards per carry. Ware’s down hill running style will be vital in keeping Bama’s interior defense honest.
 
Favors: Alabama – Fourth in the nation with 27 TDs on the ground, Richardson & Co. are still too hard to bet against in this category.
 
Wide Receiver
 
Alabama: Marquis Maze leads the Alabama receiving corp. with 482 yards receiving and just a single touchdown. As we all know, Bama is a running team and they have success with not necessarily their play differential but their play placement. The Tide attempt more passes and average more passing yards per game than LSU but lack a go-to player through the air. Running back Trent Richardson is Alabama’s third leading receiver, only trailing wide out Darius Hanks by 18 yards with same number of receptions. McCarron will grow as quarterback on Saturday and it will be interesting to see if the receivers can fertilize his growth.
 
LSU: There is no question that Rueben Randle is the Tigers main target each and every game. The 6’4” 208 lb ball catcher has racked up a team leading 638 yards via the pass with 7 touchdown receptions. Averaging 19.3 yards per catch, Randle is a deep threat that is utilized through play action passes and could present a conundrum to the talented Crimson Tide secondary. The Tigers love to use the middle of the field as a canvas in their passing game, as they excel in finding space. Alabama averages 45.3 more passing yards per game than LSU does but the Tigers have the edge with 16 passing touchdowns compared to the Tide’s 10.
 
Favors: LSU – The Tigers use their receivers to cumulate points better than Alabama. The numbers show this and that’s just a fact.
 
Defense
 
Alabama: As mentioned before, this defense is only allowing opponents a single touchdown per game. With two shutouts on the year and Arkansas having the most points against the Tide D (14), this is what you call a ‘stingy defense’. Leading tackler, Dont’a Hightower, anchors this group with 48 total takedowns and 1.5 sacks. Not many linebackers, much less defensive players, are of his ilk. Saban’s secondary stud, cornerback Mark Barron, is also one to watch, tallying a team leading 27 solo tackles on the year. To boot, this defense is damn near impossible to run the football against, giving up a mere 44.9 yards per game on the ground. Their ability to attain multiple 3rd and long situations, play right into the hands of defensive coordinator Kirby Smart (opponents have a 26% success rating on 3rd down). The highest paid assistant on Nick Saban’s staff is earning every dollar with this blue collar, hit em’ in the mouth, defense.
 
LSU: Discussing the LSU defense without a mention of the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, would be a travesty.
 
 
Mathieu is arguably the best player in college football right now. This ball hawk is not the only playmaker on the Tigers defense though; #90 Michael Brockers is one to watch on game day. The 6’6” 306lb sophomore defensive tackle has been making plays up front all season long and will be a key factor in stuffing Alabama’s run game this Saturday. The LSU defense has accrued 19 sacks thus far and they love to rush the quarterback with their front four. #49 Barkevious Mingo and #99 Sam Montgomery lead the way with four sacks apiece. Breathing down AJ McCarron’s gullet will be these two defensive ends occupation for 60 minutes on Saturday night.
 
Favors: Draw – There is no way to pick a defense in this situation. Godspeed to the two offenses.
 
Coaching
 
Alabama: Head coach Nick Saban knows all too well about this matchup, having coached in Baton Rouge for five years and winning a national championship in 2003. That was then and this is now. Saban is fully enthralled with the Crimson Tide tradition and has brought winning to forefront once again. Saban is 51-11 as Alabama’s commander & chief, and historically his team shows up very well in big time games. Only in four instances has Saban’s team folded in the limelight of big games. Tebow’s Triumph in the ’08 SEC Championship, the Sugar Bowl loss to Utah the following game, at LSU last season, and an Iron Bowl Tide fans would love to forget; Cam’s Comeback. Taking home a national title in ’09, Saban is known for making the right call at the right time. Look for some special teams trickery or a crucial fourth down pickup this Saturday to shift momentum in Alabama’s direction.
 
LSU: There is no doubt head coach Les Miles is one of the most unpredictable coaches in the history of college football. LSU is 70-17 under The Mad Hatter’s regime and 5-1 in bowl games. With a national title in 2007, Miles is no stranger to victory and has no problem making gutsy calls in crucial times. From last year’s fake field goal fiasco against Florida, to this year’s fake punt, Miles is willing to take chances no matter what the circumstance. LSU’s coordinators will play a major role in this weekend’s face off against Bama as well. New offensive coordinator, Greg Studrawa, has done an outstanding job this year replacing Steve Kragthorpe at the beginning of the season due to Kragthorpe’s Parkinson’s diagnosis. Former Tennessee Vols D coordinator, John Chavis, has elevated this defense to the next level, notching ranks in the top 12 in three separate defensive categories in 2010.
 
Favors: Alabama – I learned in math class that 2 is greater than 1. Saban has 2 titles. Miles has 1.
 
Intangibles
 
Alabama: According to Las Vegas bookmaker Todd Fuhrman (follow him on Twitter @ToddFuhrman) home field advantage usually moves the line 2.5 to 4 points in favor of the home team. The line opened earlier this week at -4 leaning towards Alabama. On Saturday there is no doubt that Bryant-Denny Stadium will be the loudest in the country to solidify that forecast. I was in attendance for the first 24 points scored in last years Iron Bowl and can tell you first hand that T-town can be deafening to the opposition.
 
I was also in attendance for Auburn’s 28 points and can tell you first hand that T-town can get very quiet.
 
This shows that home field advantage can be a deciding factor but can also be overcome. Trent Richardson is their intangible asset. The Crimson Tide will go as far as Richardson takes them and judging by his history, it’s usually to the end zone. In the new era of college football, passing the pigskin all over the yard is the new fad. Alabama’s approach is pound the rock all game long and eventually the defense will wear down.
 
LSU: The Bayou Bengals are blessed with two intangibles going into this road matchup. First, the Tigers ability to force the opposition to commit turnovers is uncanny. LSU is +15 in the turnover department, which makes this team extremely difficult to beat. Giving the top team in the nation multiple opportunities to put points on the board, off of takeaways, is a recipe for disaster. The other intangible lies deep within the soil. A gift from God’s green earth that breeds enzymes and amino acids. A gift that gives nutrience to a man in a white hat with a fictitious clipboard. I’m talking about that sweet Bermuda that Les Miles devours each and every game day.
 
This could be an intangible that is unmatched.
 
Favors: LSU – Every football expert will tell you turnovers are the key to victory. Grass aside; LSU has the intangible quality to force turnovers.
 
 
The Prediction: LSU 28 – 24
 
A late interception by AJ McCarron seals the Tide’s fate and gives LSU the victory.
 
That’s my prediction, what’s yours? Post below.
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