Not game of the century like last year (twice), just game of the year. The number one team in the nation who most agree have yet to face a true test this season, the Alabama Crimson Tide, head into a tricky, emotional and promising night game in Tiger Stadium to face the #5 LSU Tigers.
There’s a lot of talk about revenge and hate for both teams. Some people still can’t understand how Alabama, who lost to LSU 9-6 in the regular season shouldn’t even been in the BCS Championship game if the BCS was a perfect system, were so dominant, so much better than the Tigers when it came to the final game of the season. It ended 21-0, with Les Miles imploding and some even saying sacrificing the game in order to prove he’s right on the whole Jordan Jefferson – Jarrett Lee affair.
Still, Alabama players who were there in Tuscaloosa for the 9-6 loss feel they were robbed. They want the SEC West and the SEC championship as well. That title looks like a done deal, if only they can get by LSU, where they have won only once in their last four visits.
Kevin Norwoord, Tide receiver: LSU is the SEC championship team or whatever, and not us, we’re just the national championship team. And that’s one of our goals, to be the SEC championship team. To me, I like to fulfill all my goals, and that’s one we didn’t, so it’s motivation for us.
Since the beginning of the Saban Bowl in 2007, the teams are 3-3, with the games turning chippier, more physical, brutal and defensive each time. Alabama come with the best defense in the nation, allowing only 8.1 points per game. They allow only 1.9 yards per carry and a total of 203.1 yards per game from their opponents. Alabama leads college football with 125 points scored off turnovers this season.
LSU aren’t far behind, with 2.7 yards per carry allowed along with 14.6 points per game. They have more sacks, tackles for loss and forced turnover than the Tide do, but some stats are hard to consider authentic because Alabama haven’t had a tough outing all season, never winning by less than 19 points and not having to use second and third stringers at the end of the game.
The real difference comes in the form of their offensive efficiency, and also the strength of schedule up to this point. LSU have faced three ranked SEC teams in the last three weeks, beginning with a tough loss to Florida, carrying on with two tough wins of South Carolina and Texas A&M. Still, there’s nothing on those teams that’s quite like what the Tide have to offer.
The real problem for LSU this season, despite the 7-1 record, has been Zach Mettenberger’s play. Ignore the 7 touchdown passes; LSU are a run team first and second, and all Mettenberger has to do is keep it simple and avoid mistakes. The popular blueprint for SEC powerhouse teams, like Alabama on most seasons. Mettenberger has thrown 4 interceptions so far this season and is completing only 55.6% of his passes. His big struggles began when SEC play began, exemplified by his difficulty in making big plays.
Mettenberger completed 78.6 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer in his first three games of the season. Once SEC play began, he has not been as sharp, completing 16.7 percent of his 15-yard throws in four conference games. LSU has four touchdown drives of 75 yards or longer, tied for the second fewest in FBS. The Tigers have no such drives in its four conference games.
In comparison, Alabama, a team that also focuses heavily on the run with T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy, averaging 5.2 yards per carry so far this season and 6.2 yards per rush during the fourth quarters, which is a number that usually predicts National championships (Florida in 2008, Alabama in 2011), have a Heisman candidate in A.J. McCarron.
He completed 68.9% of his passes, has thrown 18 touchdown passes this season and has yet to be intercepted. He’s completing 72.2 percent of his passes thrown 25 yards or longer this season, 87.5 percent of his 25-yard passes off play action. Establish the run first, but McCarron doesn’t drop the ball when he needs to step up.
Prediction? Hard to look past the Tide. Too good of a team so far, and even with a weaker schedule up to this point, LSU strengths aren’t in places were Alabama have any sort of weakness. Great defenses, great running game and a much better quarterback for the Tide. Statistically, there’s a silver lining for the Tigers: Nine previous times the AP No. 1 team has faced a Top-20 opponent on the road the week after a home win against another Top-20 opponent. The AP No. 1 team is just 2-7 in those nine previous road games, including the Crimson Tide themselves losing in that situation at South Carolina just two years ago.