By LUKE JOHNSON
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
LSU will win by …
Taking the crowd out of the game … Whatever problems Alabama has had getting people to stay at its football games this season won’t be a problem Saturday against LSU. With these two bitter rivals on the field, the crowd is likely to be as rowdy as it has been since the last time the Tigers came to town in 2011. In order for LSU to have a shot, it needs to silence the crowd quickly and it needs to keep its foot on the pedal. Remember, both of LSU’s losses this season came on the road in hostile environments. If LSU can bring the decibel level down a notch, it’ll greatly help its cause.
Playing careful, not carefree … Sure, there are a lot of things to blame for LSU’s struggles this season: a defense that’s not up to snuff, some questionable coaching decisions, yadda, yadda, yadda. But what have really crippled the Tigers’ season are turnovers, particularly inopportune turnovers. Three first-half interceptions against Ole Miss played a huge part in LSU’s 27-24 loss, and Furman took an interception to the endzone the following week for a 7-0 lead in Tiger Stadium. LSU was able to come back in both of those games, but that probably won’t be the case against Alabama, who will find a way to put LSU in an inescapable hole if it turns the ball over early.
Winning the third phase … If this game is anything like the previous few games between LSU and Alabama, it’ll be a knock-down-drag-out down to the wire affair. When two teams are so closely matched, special teams is often the deciding factor. This isn’t particularly good news for LSU, who might be trotting out a new kicker and has been dealing with inconsistency from its punter all season. The Tigers will need James Hairston to be just as reliable as Colby Delahoussaye at kicker if he is forced to fill in, and Jamie Keehn will need to have his first shank-less game of the season. It wouldn’t hurt if Odell Beckham re-discovered his big-time kick return abilities.
Alabama will win by …
Taking Jeremy Hill out of the game … He may have had his best game against the Tide last season, but Alabama will have no problem making Zach Mettenberger beat it again, because that means one of two things happened. One, Alabama jumped out ahead of LSU early, forcing the Tigers to throw the ball to catch up. Or two, Alabama corralled LSU’s most explosive player and crippled the Tigers’ scoring chances. Mettenberger has been phenomenal in his senior season, but the Tide know that eliminating Hill’s impact on the ball game dramatically increases their chances of winning. Stop Hill, or prevent him from getting the ball, and you’ve essentially stopped LSU’s offense from operating at max capacity.
Relying on its horses … While LSU has proven to be susceptible in pass defense this season, it’s the LSU run defense that the Tide should choose to take advantage of this weekend. The Tigers are giving up 3.9 yards per rush this season – due, in large part, to some shoddy tackling that refuses to go away -- and haven’t faced a group of running backs and offensive linemen as talented as Alabama’s yet. The Tide can grind away at the clock and the LSU defense by allowing running backs T.J. Yeldon (115 carries, 729 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Kenyan Drake (63 attempts, 491 yards, 7 touchdowns) to do work behind a massive offensive front.
Staying true to philosophy … The only scare Alabama has endured this season was a 49-42 thriller with Texas A&M in College Station, when Johnny Manziel carved its vaunted defense to little bits. Of course, the A&M defense was so porous it didn’t matter. But that might not be the case this time around if Alabama gets into a shootout with a much-improved LSU offense. While the Tide have the talent to win consistently in high-scoring affairs, it is not the type of game they’re accustomed to being in. They would do best to make sure this game looks more like last season’s 21-17 win, or even 2011’s 9-6 overtime loss than a repeat of what happened in Texas.
Cody Worsham: Alabama 38, LSU 27
Luke Johnson: Alabama 30, LSU 28
Derek Ponamsky: LSU 31, Alabama 28
Hunt Palmer: Alabama 28, LSU 20
Jordy Culotta: LSU 34, Alabama 27