While it isn’t number one versus number two, the next chapter of the “Game of the Century” will be huge. There are so many factors that go into this matchup of the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide hosting the No. 2 LSU Tigers this Saturday. In the past few seasons, the defense played a huge factor in deciding the outcomes. It isn’t common that this intense SEC West rivalry will feature a battle between two Heisman Trophy contenders in Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. This outcome will lengthen the line in the sand between the top team in the SEC and potentially other teams in the nation. Here are the keys for Alabama vs LSU.
Keys for Alabama vs LSU
Tagovailoa vs Burrow
Before the season, Alabama quarterback Tagovailoa was a Heisman Trophy favorite. Not many thought that former Ohio State transfer, Burrow, would be anywhere near college football’s top passers. Both quarterbacks have led their offenses to become two of the most established and elite units in college football. LSU’s offense ranks fourth in the nation in points scored per game (46.8) and second in passing yards per game (377.6). Alabama’s offense ranks second in points per game (48.8) and fifth in passing yards per game (333.6). A quarterback is only as good as their wide receivers, however. LSU has two highly reliable receivers in Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase. The Crimson Tide’s wide receiver might be the best overall position unit in the entire nation. Most of their receiving yards come after the catch.
In eight games, Burrow has thrown for 2,805 yards, 30 touchdowns, and only four interceptions on 205 completions (out of 260 attempts). Burrow leads the nation in pass completion percentage (78.8) and is second in touchdowns and passing yards. Tagovailoa has thrown for 2,166 yards, 27 touchdowns, and only two interceptions on 145 completions (out of 194 attempts). He missed the Tide’s last matchup vs the Arkansas Razorbacks while recovering from a high ankle sprain. Tagovailoa was listed as questionable before being upgraded to probable in the middle of the week. Reports are saying that this is only precautionary and that the Tide expect Tagovailoa to be fully mobile. Alabama will need him at his best as this will be the biggest regular-season matchup of his collegiate career. Still, expect a rare quarterback showdown at their best in this SEC West matchup.
Which Offensive Line Can Keep a Clean Pocket
There is rarely a quarterback that can thrive without a highly dependable offensive line blocking for them. Both the Crimson Tide and the Tigers have two consistent offensive lines that can protect the quarterback and help establish the run game. Alabama’s o-line has given up nine sacks so far this season while LSU’s o-line has only given five sacks. The Tide’s o-line has helped create a more established run game compared to the Tigers’ line. Alabama’s offensive line is led by two high-profile blockers in right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. and left tackle Alex Leatherwood. Both defensive lines will give each offensive line a tough test. LSU’s defense has accounted for 20 sacks while Alabama’s defense has accounted for 19 sacks.
Most of Alabama’s sacks come from two-hybrid pass rushers in defensive end/outside linebackers Anfernee Jennings (four sacks) and Terrell Lewis (six sacks). Other than Tide middle linebacker Shane Lee’s three-and-a-half sacks, no other defender has more than one sack. The LSU Tigers have four current defenders that have accounted for two or more sacks so far this season. While the Tide’s defense can get into the backfield, they fall short of consistently sacking the quarterback. For the Tide to be efficient on offense, they will need to keep the pocket clean for Tagovailoa. The consistency of the Tide’s o-line will need to be much more stout in suppressing pressure from LSU’s pass rush due to the injury to Tagovailoa. Weakening Tagovailoa will be the biggest goal of the LSU defense and biggest loss for the Tide’s offense.
The Secondary Will be the Key for This Game
Naturally, with two highly explosive offenses, it will be much more difficult for the pass defense especially in the secondary. Last season, the lack of experience was the weakness for the Tide’s defense. That weakness turned into their strength this season. In eight games, Alabama’s defense ranks 13th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (180.1). Safety Xavier McKinney is the heart and soul of the Tide’s defense as the play-caller, consistent deep pass coverage defender, and stout run stopper. Cornerbacks Trevon Diggs and Patrick Surtain II are two of the SEC’s top press coverage defensive backs. Shyheim Carter has done very well for the Crimson Tide as an extra nickelback. Often, defensive coordinator Pete Golding will have a dime package of six defenders on the field.
Defensively, LSU has one of the best players in the nation at safety in Grant Delpit, who can cover deep. They also have reliable playmaking cornerbacks in Derek Stingley Jr. (nine pass deflections and four interceptions) and Kristian Fulton (eight pass deflections). The Tigers do have a habit of allowing short passes to becoming big plays. This can be key for the Tide’s offense in their offensive philosophy. The Tide’s secondary must not get beat deep consistently by the speed and elusiveness of the Tigers’ receivers.
Those are the keys to Alabama vs LSU. The game airs at 3:30 pm ET on CBS.