No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 LSU ready for showdown at Tiger Stadium
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though he has yet to participate in the rivalry, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has a good feel for what facing Alabama will be like.
“I’m not scared of this game,” he told reporters in Baton Rouge this week. “No one on this team is scared of this game. If you’re timid, then don’t come out of that locker room.”
Alabama feels the same way.
Even though the Crimson Tide has won seven straight in the series back to the national championship game at the end of the 2011 season, it’s still the one in which Alabama sees comparable talent and is usually the most physical during the regular season.
This year’s edition will feature the teams ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the CFP rankings, respectively, at what many believe is the toughest setting in college football, Tiger Stadium.
The last three times the Crimson Tide visited Baton Rouge the games were all remarkably close: 10-0 in 2016, 20-13 in overtime in 2014, and 21-17 in 2012.
Plus there’s still that thing about Nick Saban having built LSU up to national prominence and winning a national title. He’s since won five at Alabama since coming back to the college game in 2007 following a short stint in the NFL.
“I remember it was very loud, crazy atmosphere, which I like,” Alabama senior linebacker Christian Miller said about the 2016 trip.
“I liked the excitement of that. This is what you come to a school like Alabama for. I remember it was just back and forth, very physical, and overall just a matchup of two heavyweights going at it. I expect nothing less this game.”
But both teams are considerably different, especially offensively.
While Burrow may not have the most impressive stats — having completed 120 of 223 passes for 1,544 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions, for a passer rating of 118.2 — he’s been clutch while running a more open offense.
“I don’t think this team is like any LSU team we’ve seen in recent years in terms of what they’re doing on offense,” Saban said.
“They’re going fastball, they’re playing tempo, they’re a lot more open formations than what they have been in the past. They’re not in the I-formation just trying to run the ball against people. Creating a lot more issues and problems for you the way they utilize the personnel.
“They also play with great intangibles when it comes to toughness and trying to finish plays and the effort they’re playing with, the competitive spirit they’re playing with is really, really exceptional. And that’s why I think they’re having success.”
Meanwhile, Alabama has geared its offense behind junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the early frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. He’s 107-for-152 (70.4 percent) for 2,066 yards and has yet to play in the fourth quarter this season.
With the diverse passing attack, four wide receivers already have 400-plus receiving yards and junior tight end Irv Smith Jr. is quickly closing in at 384. In comparison, LSU has one.
“A lot of double moves, creative routes, seven routes, chair sevens we call them, smash routes,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “They know how to attack coverages. They’re very well-coached.
“But, you know, we have some good DBs.”
Sophomore cornerback Greedy Williams and sophomore safety Grant Delpit were named to the Associated Press’ midseason All-American team. No one seems to remember that Alabama’s Deionte Thompson was the other safety on the first team, but LSU leads the nation in interceptions with 14.
According to CFB Film Room, the starting quarterbacks for Georgia, Ole Miss, Florida and Auburn completed just 12 of 40 pass attempts that were 15-plus yards downfield against LSU, with one touchdown and five interceptions. Their completion percentage was 30 percent.
Meanwhile, in throws 15-plus yards downfield Tagovailoa is 32-for-45 for 1,032 yards and 15 touchdowns. It works out to 71.1 percent.
–Left: 8-15 220 3
–Middle: 8-12 350 3
–Right: 17-28 462 9
Overall, Tagovailoa leads the nation in passer efficiency with a 238.8 rating that’s on pace to break the national record. He’s had 25 touchdowns without having an interception.
“There’s been plenty of times where I should have thrown an interception, but I was lucky the guys didn’t catch the ball,” Tagovailoa said.
Obviously, something has to give with the matchup.
LSU players have been saying that they’re going to attack Tagovailoa in new ways, but there’s no way to compensate for his quick release and ability to turn nothing into something. Plus, Alabama’s line has only allowed five sacks, half the number of the next best team in the SEC.
LSU’s offensive line has yielded 18 sacks, while Alabama leads the league with 26. In that respect, Orgeron better hope his declaration of “It’s a big man’s game. This game is always won in the trenches” isn’t true.
Alabama is third in rushing offense and fourth in rushing defense. LSU, which has played a tougher schedule so far, is sixth and seventh in those categories.
So it could come down to the quarterbacks.
“We’ve been underdogs in quite a few games this year, and I’m pretty sure we won most of them,” Burrow said.