By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Had you been told in the preseason that LSU and Alabama would meet on Nov. 5, with the winner taking the inside route for the SEC West title and staking a claim for a spot in the College Football playoff, you wouldn’t have been shocked. Had you been told how the Tigers would have gotten to that matchup, though, you’d probably have immediate contact between the floor and your jaw.
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No. 15 LSU (5-2, 3-1 SEC) welcomes its staunchest rival, No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC) to town on Saturday, and as always, so much hinges on the game’s outcome. But this matchup has a different feel to
For the first time since 2006, LSU and Alabama doesn’t mean Les Miles vs. Nick Saban. Miles, who once held a 3-2 record over his LSU predecessor, before losing five straight, is gone, fired mid-season after the worst start of his tenure in TigerTown. Saban remains, seeking a sixth straight win over his former employer, and one again that would vault his team closer to yet another playoff appearance.
The Tide look every bit the part of a national championship contender. Their calling card under Saban has always been defense, and this unit is no exception. The Tide rank in the top five nationally in scoring defense (fourth, 14.9 points per game), rush defense (first, 70.13 yards per game), and total defense (fourth, 274.5 yards per game). Their most dominant position is along the defensive front.
Led by Baton Rouge native and pass rush specialist Tim Williams, as well as first team All-SEC end Jonathan Allen, Alabama leads the nation with 32 sacks and 368 tackle-for-loss yards. Saban’s 3-4 look generates more negative plays than any front in the country, with linebacker Rueben Foster anchoring a linebacking corps that makes running the ball against Alabama a tall order.
If there’s any weakness in the Tide defense, it’s the secondary, which still ranks third in the SEC, giving up 204.4 yards per game. They’ll also be without senior safety Eddie Jackson, lost for the season to an injury. What that unit has lacked in statistical dominance, it has made up for in production of points. Alabama’s nine defensive touchdowns leads the nation. They’re a constant threat for a pick six or a scoop and score. In total, Alabama has 12 non-offensive touchdowns on the season.
“This is the best defense we’ve seen,” said LSU head coach Ed Orgeron. “Might be one of the best in college football history.”
Those points have helped the Tide to No. 8 nationally in scoring, with 43.9 points per game. Take away those 12 scores, and the Tide offense is still responsible for 33.4 points per game, which would be good for fifth in the SEC by itself. Lane Kiffin’s attack has been balanced this season, with 264.75 rushing yards per game (11th nationally) split among five ball-carriers, Damien Harris (87.13 yards per game) chief among them.
Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has been quite good in his debut season, tallying 521 yards and nine scores on the ground to go with 1,578 yards and 12 scores in the air. He’s been efficient in both arenas, with 5.5 yards per carry and a QB efficiency of 142.7, fourth-best in the league.
“He’s another tailback back there,” said Orgeron. “One that can throw the ball.”
His favorite targets: Calvin Ridley (5.5 catches, 62 yards per game) and ArDarius Stewart (4.7 catches, 78.7 yards per game), as well as the always dangerous tight end O.J. Howard, who trails only Ridley (5) with four touchdown receptions on the season.
“This is why you come to play and coach at LSU,” said Orgeron. “The key is for us to explode at 7 o’clock on Saturday.”