It’s week 10 in the SEC and that means its November. This is when the popular term “cannibalization” has come into play when talking about the nature of the SEC when inner-divisional foes square off and fates are decided.
The biggest battles for the rest of the season lie in the SEC west with Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss playing for their chance to go to the SEC championship game as well as an opportunity to get into the four-team playoff. Not to discount the eastern division games in any way because Vanderbilt will come to play versus Florida this weekend and stranger things have happened in the SEC. That said, Florida looks to have the east wrapped up with a win Saturday so it’s more than likely going to be Florida versus one of three teams from the west for the conference title.
Speaking of the west, the LSU Tigers head to Tuscaloosa to face off with Alabama on the big stage at 7 pm on CBS. All eyes will be on two stud running backs but Brandon Harris could be the star as he attempts to carry the offense on his shoulders for the first time this season. LSU has been able to create big pass plays this season with the combination of Harris, Dupre and Dural when defenses focus too much on Fournette. Let’s not get too far ahead without mentioning that Harris has hit the tight-end for eight receptions so far this season and Alabama cannot afford to find itself in the wrong positions defensively else he’ll make them pay with one of several options. Case in point, Harris was able to put up 202 yards completing 13-of-19 passing versus a Florida defense that ranks third in the SEC in total defense. Yea, I know it’s not an Alabama defense that’s ranked number one in the conference in total defense but they are similar in being very physical at the point of attack while limiting their opponents very little opportunities on the ground.
Defensively LSU has managed to keep themselves in the upper echelon of the conference in total defense and rushing defense. As for passing defense, the proud “DBU” has fallen off a bit allowing an average of 222 yards per game passing to opponents. That puts LSU at the number nine spot in the SEC in pass defense. LSU’s secondary does well to defend slants and screens as we’ve seen this season but for whatever reason this secondary finds itself giving up a wide open receiver for a touchdown. Not a position the Tigers want to find themselves in late in the game with Coker and Calvin Ridley staring back at you from the other side. That said, LSU will lean on Lewis Neal to help disrupt the pocket and force Coker to make mistakes like we’ve seen him do this season.
For Alabama this game comes as a “must win” in order to keep a conference championship game in their future as well as any shot at making the college football playoff. Yes, Alabama has the number four spot after last night’s releasing of the polls but Alabama has to win out in order to keep themselves relevant enough to stay in the four team playoff. Not rocket science but Alabama still has a pretty good Mississippi State team on the schedule and we all know that anything goes in the Iron Bowl versus Auburn.
An area of concern for Alabama coming into this game was injuries with Eddie Jackson out with a knee injury, expected to return versus LSU, as well as right tackle Dominique Jackson and safety Ronnie Harrison both out due to ankle injuries. Dominique and Ronnie both have been seen in practice this week participating in drills with the rest of the team so it’s safe to say they’ll be back on the field Saturday.
In order for Alabama to pull this game out at home quarterback Jake Coker is going to have to play with as few mistakes as possible. We’ve seen this season that Coker has had issues with pressure like in the Ole Miss game where he completed just 50% of his passes for 201 yards or even versus a Tennessee team where Coker managed to throw for 247 yards yet found himself sacked five times. If LSU can cause havoc and put pressure on Coker it could be a much longer night than the Crimson Tide fans will want to talk about. That said, if the Alabama offensive line gives Coker enough time to get passes off Calvin Ridley and company could have a big night versus a passing defense that is tied in the SEC for the most passing touchdowns given up(14).
While Fournette has been considered to be the Heisman front-runner this season let’s not forget about Alabama’s combo of Drake and Henry. LSU’s rush defense ranks number two in the SEC giving up a mere 93 yards per game but will be tested versus this hard hitting running attack that is ranked fifth in the SEC averaging 188 yards per game. Let’s not forget that LSU’s rushing attack is ranked number one in the SEC and fifth in the country averaging over 300 yards per game on the ground. That’s really where this game will be decided. In the trenches up front and on the ground with each teams running attacks setting the tone for the game.
LSU will look to assert their dominance by running against Alabama’s dominant defensive front that has allowed a lowly 78 yards per game rushing and held some of the best rushing attacks in the conference to sub par numbers this season. Alabama, on the other hand, needs to be able to count on Jacob Coker to be a reliable leader who can will this team to a victory if need be as he did versus Tennessee and Arkansas. Again, Brandon Harris is the “x-factor” in this game and could be a lethal weapon against a fifth ranked passing defense that may not be at 100% this weekend.
A couple of quick facts going into this game:
- LSU hasn’t beaten at top 10 team on the road since 2011 versus Alabama 9-6
- Since 2011 LSU is 0-4 versus top 10 teams
- Since 2007, the year Saban took over at Bama, both teams have been ranked in T25 when playing each other
- Not a single player on the LSU roster has been apart of a team that has beaten Alabama
- LSU has lost the last two games to Alabama with leads late in the game