No longer THE game in the SEC and College Football, Alabama playing at LSU is still one of the biggest fixtures around, as the number five Crimson Tide roll into Baton Rouge to play the number 16 Tigers, who are finally playing like you expect, in what might turn out to be a crucial moment for one team that makes the College Football playoff.
It’s been rough for LSU against Alabama over the last three games. It began with that 21-0 loss in the national championship game, followed by Alabama’s big win in Baton Rouge, probably A.J. McCarron’s biggest college football moment, and a dominant 38-17 victory in Tuscaloosa last season. But the Tigers are still in the picture of whoever ends up as the champion in the SEC West, because the number of games the contenders for the spot in the championship game still have to play against each other.
The key to stopping LSU is slowing down the run. No one runs the ball more than the Tigers in the SEC, going on the ground 67% of the time. They’re 6-0 when they go past 150 yards, and they’re 1-2 when they’re below that, including the losses to Mississppi State and Auburn. Alabama are the second best team in the nation when it comes to stopping the run, allowing just 78.1 yards per game, and by far the best team in the SEC.
They’re not bad at moving the ball on the ground themselves, 30th in the nation with 218.6 rushing yards per game. However, the most effective weapon they have on offense is Amari Cooper, who is responsible for 49% of the team’s receiving yards. As long as Blake Sims stays in the pocket, he’s very successful at finding Cooper. He’s the best among power 5 conference quarterbacks with 11 yards per attempt when he stays in the pocket. When he’s rushed outside of it? He averaged 3.1 yards less and his completion percentage drops by almost twenty percent.
Alabama haven’t been too impressive away from home this season. Their one loss came at Ole Miss, they struggled to beat Arkansas (by just one point) and also didn’t have the easiest of times at Tennessee, winning by two touchdowns. Their season-opening win against West Virginia on neutral ground was a lot closer than the 10-point margin suggests. They’re averaging only 24.5 points per game on the road as opposed to over 48 when playing at home.
What’s changed for LSU after going 0-2 to start off their season in the SEC? Their run defense. After allowing 6.1 yards per carry, 7.3 inside the tackles and 5.2 outside of them through those two losses, they’ve dropped everything to much more manageable and winnable numbers in three wins: 3.6 yards per carry, 2.9 yards between the tackles, forcing teams to go outside. It leads to a bit more yards given up on wide routes, but forcing teams to go that way has its rewards.
LSU didn’t just lose to Mississippi State and Auburn – they were badly beaten. This game will tell a lot about where the Crimson Tide and the Tigers fit in the whole playoff discussion, because so far, LSU have lost to serious challengers. Alabama? Their schedule has been soft, and they lost to a serious contender on the road, although Ole Miss have slipped since. A loss would be devastating to the Tigers, crippling to the Tide. Funny thing is? A win doesn’t promise them anything because of the games left for them to play, although things are a bit easier for LSU (Arkansas and Texas A&M on the road).