Game of the Week: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 13 LSU
The first official college football playoff rankings have been released, and now it’s time to get serious. In the first two years of this new system, the rankings at the conclusion of the regular season have been far different than the initial selections. While Alabama has ascended to the top of the rankings, LSU sits at number 13 and looks to make a case for itself.
It's not quite as anticipated as it has been historically, but there are still monumental implications at stake. Each year when this great rivalry game is played, the amount of energy is almost palpable.
Maybe it’s because of the frequent multitude of NFL talent on either side or the fact that Nick Saban previously coached on the other sideline. It may even be the probability of a close game, with seven of the past 10 meetings being decided by nine or fewer points.
There's also the fact that Alabama defeated LSU in the 2012 BCS championship following a thrilling regular season matchup, in which the Tigers escaped with a 9-6 victory.
The currently top ranked Crimson Tide are riding a 20 game win streak, including a 30-16 home win over LSU last season. LSU has won three in a row and appears to be rejuvenated, particularly on offense, under interim coach Ed Orgeron. The Tiger offense has been significantly more formidable since Les Miles’ firing and are beginning to perform the way everyone expected prior to the season.
Alabama has been so prodigious thus far that it seems to be miles ahead of everyone else in college football. The Tide have won each of their last five games by at least 19 points, including its last two against top ten teams. The Tide are coming off of a bye week, which could be viewed as a momentum killer.
One key for the Tide will be to simply to impose their will immediately and maintain their balance on offense. Alabama’s rushing attack has consistently been terrific with all three of their primary ball carriers averaging over six yards per carry. LSU may boast the 8th ranked run defense in the nation, but there is no need for the Tide to steer away from the run. If they can continue to establish the run, it will open things up for an explosive passing game.
Another essential will be to limit the Tiger rushing attack and force Danny Etling to beat the Tide defense with his arm. The Tiger offense is averaging 335 rush yards per game since Orgeron took over and has taken a substantial amount of pressure off of Etling in the passing game. Alabama is the top run defense in the nation and if it can slow down the potent LSU rushing attack, it will be interesting to see how Etling will respond.
The Tigers’ blueprint to victory will be to stay aggressive and creative offensively.
Under Les Miles, LSU averaged only 21 points and 339.5 yards per game. The Tigers are now averaging 41.7 points and 536 yards per game in Orgeron three games as interim coach and have run a far more innovative offense. Star running back Leonard Fournette is back at full strength, but his absence promoted greater balance on offense. Etling especially has been the beneficiary, posting a 163.8 passer rating and 9.2 yards per attempt since Les Miles’ departure. The Tigers also must take care of the ball, especially against an Alabama defense that has scored 90 points off of turnovers, including nine defensive touchdowns.
All eyes will be on quarterback Jalen Hurts for the Tide offense. Hurts is the first true freshman quarterback to ever start for Nick Saban, but is also the first true dual-threat passer Saban has ever had. Hurts has revolutionized Alabama's offense and is the quintessential signal caller for Lane Kiffin’s system. He's completing 63 percent of his passes for 1,578 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has also run for 521 yards and nine scores. This will be the biggest test of his young career against an excellent Tiger defense and one of the most hostile environments in college football.
On the other side of the ball Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, and Reuben Foster have been the core of a defense loaded with NFL talent. All three are likely first round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft and lead maybe one of the best defenses that Nick Saban has ever coached at Alabama.
Leonard Fournette is arguably the best running back in college football and has all the tools to be a star at the next level. Last week was his fifth career 200-yard game and his ninth straight with at least 100 yards. Last year, however, he was shut down for 31 yards against the Tide. Fournette will look for a bounce back performance, but he will need some help in the passing game from Etling and a talented group of receivers including Malachi Dupree and Travin Dural.
Defensively, Arden Key, one of the top pass rushers in the country, and Davon Godchaux lead an excellent defensive front that will try to contain Hurts, while Kendell Beckwith is a star at the linebacker position. LSU is the best defensive team that the Tide has faced yet and should pose quite the challenge for Hurts and the Tide offense.
LSU might only be 5-2, but Nick Saban is treating them as an undefeated team due to their 3-0 record under Ed Orgeron. Orgeron has transformed the Tiger offense since taking over, but he has not played a defense with close to the amount of talent on the Tide. A month ago, this game seemed like a blowout, but the Tigers are a much better team now and will be in Death Valley. However, Alabama has been exceptional on the road this season, and although it should be a great game, the Tide will manage the noise and escape Death Valley with another victory.
Prediction: Alabama 27, LSU 19
Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.