05 November 2009
There is every reason to suspect that Alabama’s decent offense is going to grind out a moderate amount of yardage against LSU’s good-but-not-great defense. So the part of the game I am most interested in seeing is the part where the Bayouxiacs have the ball.
LSU’s running game is similar to Tennessee’s in that it features a big bruiser-style senior running back, Charles Scott (57.4 YPG, 4.5 YPC, 5 TDs) in this case. But power running just doesn’t work against the Tide, which has only given up 75 yards or more to a running back three times in the last 22 games. Outside running doesn’t work, either, because Javier Arenas (45 tackles), Mark Barron (48 tackles), and/or Justin Woodall (28 tackles) can usually get to the corner at the same time the back gets there. They’re all sure tacklers, and none of them can easily be blocked by a wideout, the only offensive player who can get to the spot in time.
However, LSU might be able to move the ball the way teams usually move the ball against Alabama, by attacking the corners with off-tackle runs, slants, and quick outs. In other words, by getting their speed players outside of our over-sized defensive ends and linebackers. Jordan Jefferson (140.2 efficiency, 63.7 cmplt %, 7.4 YPA, 2.1 intcp %) is big and mobile, and has the potential to live out there on the corners. Expect him to look for his excellent wideouts, Brandon LaFell (37 rcpts, 12.9 YPC, 8 TDs) and Terrence Tolliver (38 rcpts, 13.2 YPC, 3 TDs), underneath. (By comparison, Julio Jones leads Bama with only 20 receptions). LSU should try to move the ball down the field in short chunks, as those teams that have had any offensive success against the Tide have done.
On the other hand, LSU has had trouble handling a pass rush, and Alabama is certain to throw a multitude of blitz packages at the sophomore QB, who is truly the key to this game. An offense that lives on long drives based on 4/6/8-yard gains has a lot of opportunities to cough up the ball, and if Jefferson loses his cool under the pressure, a bunch of those opportunities might come to fruition. This game will not be close if that happens.
Greg McElroy’s (131.7 efficiency, 59.9 complt %, 7.1 YPA, 1.5 intcp %) recent troubles have been well-documented, but the fourth-year junior looked much more in control against Tennessee, even if you couldn’t really tell it by looking at his stat line. Other than Alabama and Florida, who have the top two pass defenses in the nation, measured by the pass defense efficiency stat, the four next best pass Ds in the SEC are the four teams Alabama will have played over its last four games after tomorrow: Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU, and South Carolina, in that order. Nothing that LSU throws against McElroy should be as surprising as the first tastes of tough, fast SEC pass Ds that he got from Ole Miss and South Carolina.
If McElroy struggles again, look for Mark Ingram (125.5 YPG, 6.6 YPC, 11 TDs), Trent Richardson (47.1 YPG, 5.1 YPC, 4 TDs), and Roy Upchurch (20.6 YPG, 8.5 YPC, 1 TD) to get plenty of work. In the past few games, I think that the Bama staff has been patient with McElroy and the passing game, trying to give that part of the Tide attack time to develop even in games where it looked like the team might’ve gotten easier wins by running the ball more. I think that happened precisely so Bama could bring a two-dimensional offense into games like this – but since this IS a “game like this,” the Tide won’t be doing things on Saturday just to get ready for future games. Alabama will let it all hang out, and if that includes 30 carries for Ingram 15 for Richardson, and 10 for Upchurch, so be it. (If internet rumors are to be believed, it could possibly also include some playing time for A.J. McCarron – but I’ll believe that when I see it.)
On the other hand, don’t expect us to come straight out of the gate running on every play. Expect Bama to open with a balanced O, as we have done all year, and to try to take what LSU gives us, as we have done all year. In almost every game – Tennessee may have been the only exception – Bama has gone up-top early to loosen the defense.
Another thing to look for early: whether #84 (Colin Peek, 19 rcpts, 11.2 YPC, 1 TD) lines up at tight end. Peek-Dial-Smelley is not the same kind of rotation as Dial-Smelley-Williams. McElroy is obviously comfortable throwing to the big senior, and if he misses a second straight game, we will sorely miss him just like we did against Tennessee.
Alabama has struggled mightily in the red zone this year, and LSU is 4th nationally in red-zone D. I’m sure the Tide concentrated on red-zone O during the off-week, but will the work pay off? If it does, this game might not be close.
Finally, Alabama enjoys an advantage over the Tigers in almost every aspect of special teams. Even on kickoff returns, which has been the Tide’s achilles’ heel all season, there is less-than usual cause for concern, as LSU is last in the SEC in kickoff returns with a 17.7 average. I won’t say there is no cause for concern, because Trindon Holliday (11 KOR, 23.7 avg; 13 PR, 14.6 avg) is explosive with the ball in his hands despite his failure to break a kickoff return so far.