By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Welcome to November, "the month,” as Les Miles says, "champions are decided.”
A champion could won’t officially be decided Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, as Miles’ Tigers (6-2, 3-2 SEC) take on Nick Saban’s No.1 Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 SEC) at 7 p.m. on CBS.
The result, however, will set the stage for LSU’s November hopes.
An LSU loss would eliminate LSU mathematically from any title aspirations, which seem slim enough entering the contest. A win, however, would give the Tigers a fighting chance down the stretch, and should LSU win out – and get help from teams playing Auburn and Alabama – they could improbably end up in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game in December.
"Late in the season, the schedule that’s been here for the last nine years, you play the best teams on the back end,” said Les Miles. "It’s an exciting piece of time because it puts you where you’re going to finish. If you run the table, you have a chance to be in the championship game. If you falter, it still affords you an opportunity in the next game.”
LSU cannot falter, however, so a win over Alabama is imperative to any hopes, however slim, the Tigers may still hold. Both teams are coming off bye weeks, which, in the past has favored LSU. Alabama is 2-0 against LSU when they’ve played a game the week prior, but just 1-3 when coming off a bye.
"Psychologically, the grind of trying to get ready to play your best football every game becomes more and more challenging, especially when guys are trying to overcome more and more adversity,” Saban said of the bye week challenge. "At this time of the year, it's important that you get your team ready to play the next four games. And at this time, physical and psychological, mental recovery is probably as important as anything."
Between the lines, the matchup seems to favor the Tide. The offenses are just about even in scoring (Alabama 41.3 points per game, LSU 40.2), with the Tide holding the advantage rushing (Alabama 210 yards per game, LSU 200) and LSU holding the advantage passing (279 yards per game to Alabama’s 252).
A key to that has been Alabama’s revamped offensive line, which struggled early but has now gone five games without giving up a sack.
"I think some guys are playing with a little better technique,” Saban said. "I think the chemistry's better. I think the communication's better. I think the trust in the communication is better. I think the confidence in each other is better. I think that just comes from guys playing together.”
The defenses are where the Crimson Tide take the ball. Alabama allows 75 yards and two scores less per game (9.8) than LSU (21.9), numbers which are skewed greatly by a shootout win over Texas A&M earlier in the season. Since, the Tide have battened down the hatches, giving up just 26 points over the last six contests.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about the Tiger offense, led by quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who threw for 298 yards against the Tide last season, and has improved this season.
"He's probably playing as well as any quarterback in our league," said Saban. "Their guys are a challenge to cover and he delivers the ball to them in a timely fashion. He played extremely well against us last year.”
It wasn’t enough, however, as Alabama stole victory from the jaws of defeat with a last-minute winning score.
Despite being a two-score favorite again this year, Alabama expects another tight battle.
After all, it’s November.
"We know it’s going to be a tough game," offensive lineman Anthony Steen said. "We know it’s probably going to come down to two or three plays. If they have two good plays and an 80-yard pass and an 80-yard run, then we might lose. But if we have two or three good plays then we might win. It’s going to be that type of game.”