If you are a fan of SEC Football (and who isn’t) once again, you get a marquee matchup in the middle of your Saturday. Last week, the SEC East enjoyed the spotlight as Georgia and Florida battled in the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party.” This week the West takes center stage as two undefeated rivals decide who will represent their division in the SEC Championship.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL POLLS & CFB STANDINGS DIFFER
LSU enters the “Game of the Century: Part Deux” having the better resume and took over the top spot from Nick Saban’s crew after their win over #9 Auburn on October 27. That win marked the Bayou Bengals third this season over a top-10 opponent.
On Tuesday, the first College Football Playoff Standings** created controversy, as Ohio State, currently ranked #3 in the AP Poll, received the top spot. The AP #1 LSU dropped to #2, while Alabama fell to third.
The Crimson Tide finally get their chance to post a win on their 2019 season resume as they prepare to play host on Saturday. With a win, rammer jammer will have something LSU doesn’t have, a win over a top-five team.
RIVALRY IS ONE-SIDED
Alabama enters winners of eight straight in this matchup. Both teams faced a similar scenario in 2011 when undefeated teams (ranked 1-2 in the AP Poll and BCS Standings) met in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Tigers benefitted from three Cade Foster missed FG, including one in OT, resulting in a 9-6 LSU victory.
The Tide, however, got their revenge on LSU later that year when the BCS committee awarded them a spot in the National Championship despite not winning their division. Nick Saban’s crew held LSU to 92 total yards and five first downs (outgained them 384-92) in a 21-0 washout to secure his second National Championship at Alabama.
The Tide’s victory in the 2011 National Championship started a trend that has seen them blank the Tigers three times during their current eight-game win streak.
LSU OFFENSE POISED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
The Tigers enter Tuscaloosa ranked first in the SEC and fourth overall in the nation in total yards per game (536.0). Heisman Trophy candidate QB Joe Burrow leads the nation in completion percentage (78.8), ranks second in passing TD (30), and third in both passing yards (280.5) and QB rating (204.5).
Burrow benefits from tossing the ball to the SEC top receiving tandem in Justin Jefferson (819) and La’Marr Chase (749), who rank 1-2 in the conference in receiving yards. If you crowd their WRs, LSU can beat you with their running game as well. Clyde Edwards-Helaire 8 rushing TD is only one behind SEC leader Kylil Hill from Mississippi St., while his 5.9 rushing YPC ranks tied for 5th in the conference. To steal a line from the 1969 Dustin Hoffman & Mia Farrow, “John & Mary,” – “This is not your mother’s LSU offense.” This LSU team possesses a lethal attack, one which Alabama has never faced before in this rivalry.
LSU DEFENSE HAS BEEN OFFENSIVE
On the flip side, the LSU defense has been their weakness. If LSU were Daniel LaRusso, Nick Saban would be telling his team to “sweep the leg” when referring to their defensive unit.
The Tigers allowed 31 points allowed 31 offensive points and 374 yards to Vanderbilt. Vandy is only averaging 248 yards per game & 10 PPG (40 total) in their other four SEC games this year (both last in conference). Against the Gators, LSU allowed 457 yards. Florida averages just 348 YPG in their other five SEC games. The Gators featured five drives of 75 yards or more against the Tigers. Florida has only eight other possessions of that length in their other five SEC games combined.
In addition, LSU will be missing leading sack artist Michael Divinity Jr., who left the team for the remainder of the season due to undisclosed reasons.
ROLL TIDE KEEPS ROLLING ON OFFENSE
While LSU offense is light years ahead of its predecessors, the same can goes for Alabama. Tua Tagovailoa’s status remains the biggest question for the Tide. Earlier on ESPN College Gameday, Saban addressed Tua’s status.
“He’s practiced well all week long. In the short area he’s been really, really good. He feels good about it. … If he feels good in pregame and we don’t have a setback I think he’ll be able to play.”
-Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban on Tua’s status vs LSU (via ESPN College Gameday)
Last week Mac Jones filled in just fine for Tua, passing for 235 yards while completing 18-22 passes in Alabama’s 48-7 rout. The Tide’s offense ranks second in the nation in PPG behind Oklahoma, averaging 48.6 PPG. They rank ninth in the country and second in the SEC in total offense (506.6).
ALABAMA’S OFFENSIVE UNIT UNDERRATED?
While that question might sound funny, a closer looks show the Tide win by an average of 33.3 PPG (second in CFB behind Ohio State’s 40.4). If they played closer games, perhaps their offense would be even more explosive and Tua’s numbers, even more, Heisman worthy. A big reason why he did not win the award last season was because he did not play in the fourth quarter in over 3/4 of the Tide’s games. This season, Tua has only led three drives in the fourth quarter., severely squashing his overall numbers.
Despite rarely seeing time in the final quarter, Tua ranks fourth in the nation and second in the SEC with 27 TD passes. He ranks second behind former teammate Jalen Hurts and first in the SEC in QB rating (212.4). His 11.2 yds per completion and 74.7 completion percentage both rank second in the nation (yds per completion ranks 1st in SEC).
While LSU features a pair of certain first-round draft choices at WR, the Tide’s trio of Devonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs III will join them.
The 2017 National Championship Game hero Smith, is tied with LSU’s tandem for the SEC lead with nine TD receptions. Jeudy is right behind them with eight, while Ruggs III has six. Ruggs III 19.7 YPC ranks second in the conference, while all three rank in the top 10 in the SEC in receiving yards.
The Tide’s rushing offense should not be ignored either. Despite not playing as big a roll this season, Najee Harris is tied for 5th in the conference in YPC, averaging 5.9. He has also picked up the pace of late, averaging just under 100 rushing YPG (97) in his last five games.
Every national writer and prognosticator that I’ve spoken to loves LSU today. While others laugh at Alabama being the underdog, I feel most in the media have already given this game to LSU. To that, I say one thing.
Alabama 45-35 over the Tigers.
**The defending National Champions Clemson, despite not losing since the 2017 National Semifinals, received what amounts to a CFB Playoff version of a “bitch slap” by being left out of the playoff. By doing so, the committee served a warning that the rest of the the top five conferences should heed. By essentially being escorted into the playoff as a result of a weak conference, Clemson became the poster boy for scheduling tougher non-conference games.