Will Alabama remain unbeaten?
SEC heavyweights Alabama and LSU will collide on Saturday night with conference and national title implications. The 2013 meeting between the Crimson Tide and Tigers will be the fifth straight matchup where both programs rank among the top 15 teams in the Associated Press poll.
Even though Alabama has managed to lose twice in November and win the national title in back-to-back seasons, the Crimson Tide’s margin of error is a little smaller this year. Florida State and Ohio State are unlikely to lose a game in the regular season, while Baylor crossed one hurdle in its quest to finish 12-0 by beating Oklahoma on Thursday night.
With two losses, LSU has a chance to play spoiler on Saturday night. The Tigers are out of the BCS title picture and need a lot of help just to get back into the SEC Championship discussion. The pressure to win is clearly with Alabama, while LSU can play with nothing to lose.
Since 2010, Alabama has lost only five games. However, two of those defeats came at the hands of LSU. The Tigers won 24-21 in Baton Rouge in 2010 and 9-6 in Tuscaloosa in 2011. Alabama coach Nick Saban is 4-3 against LSU during his tenure in Tuscaloosa.
In the overall series, Alabama holds a 47-25-5 edge over LSU.
LSU at Alabama
Kickoff: 8 ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama – 12.5
Three Things to Watch
LSU’s wide receivers vs. Alabama’s secondary
Alabama’s secondary had to replace two key players coming into 2013 (safety Robert Lester and cornerback Dee Milliner), but this unit is still holding opponents to 197 passing yards per game in SEC contests. The Crimson Tide allowed 464 passing yards and five touchdown tosses to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. However, Alabama has allowed just one other touchdown pass in SEC play this season. Coach Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart are still trying to find the right mix at cornerback, as sophomore Bradley Sylve is dealing with a high ankle sprain and may not play against LSU. If Sylve is out, Eddie Jackson and Cyrus Jones will fight to start opposite of senior Deion Belue. This will be the biggest challenge for Alabama’s secondary since the Texas A&M matchup. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham form one of the nation’s best receiver duos, catching 106 passes for 1,891 yards and 16 touchdowns this year. Just how valuable are Landry and Beckham? LSU quarterbacks have completed 153 passes this year. Landry and Beckham have caught 106 of their passes. If LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger has time to throw, Landry and Beckham should be able to make plays against Alabama’s secondary.
LSU’s rush defense
It’s a bit uncharacteristic to see LSU ranked No. 8 in the SEC (conference-only games) against the run. However, that’s what happens when ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo and tackle Bennie Logan leave early for the NFL, and seniors Lavar Edwards, Josh Downs and Chancey Aghayere expire their eligibility. The Tigers essentially have a new two-deep on the defensive line this year, and there’s not a senior in the rotation. Opponents are averaging 4.4 yards per carry against LSU this season, but this line has held offenses to just seven rushing scores. Alabama’s offensive line has started to jell over the last few games, and the Crimson Tide average 6.9 yards per carry in SEC-only games. Running back T.J. Yeldon is the workhorse, but Kenyan Drake, Derrick Henry and Jalston Fowler could all see time on Saturday night. Winning the battle at the line of scrimmage is always crucial when these two teams meet. Can LSU’s defense match Alabama’s strength at the point of attack?
LSU RB Jeremy Hill vs. Alabama’s rush defense
Alabama’s rush defense has been nearly impenetrable once again in 2013. The Crimson Tide are holding opponents to just 3.8 yards per carry and have allowed just two rushing touchdowns in SEC games. LSU’s offensive line is solid but has room to improve. The Tigers have allowed 12 sacks in SEC games, and the line has paved the way for rushers to average 4.2 yards per carry in conference-only matchups. Hill is the team’s leading rusher (922 yards), and it’s critical for the sophomore to help LSU’s offense stay out of long-distance situations on second or third down. If Hill is contained, the Tigers will have their hands full trying to move the ball on Alabama.
Key Player: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Mettenberger is one of the nation’s most-improved quarterbacks this season. After throwing for 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, the senior is completing 65.4 percent of his passes and already has 19 passing scores. Mettenberger has just seven interceptions in 2013 but five picks have come in the last two games. In last year’s matchup, the senior threw for 298 yards and one touchdown. Can Mettenberger repeat that performance in 2013? LSU needs a similar output this year to have a shot at the upset.
Most of this preview has focused on LSU for one reason: the Tigers need a near-perfect effort to pull off the upset. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron should be able to take advantage of the Tigers secondary, which ranks ninth in SEC games by allowing 250.4 yards per game. With McCarron playing at a high level, and the Crimson Tide owning an edge in the trenches, LSU’s defense will have its hands full on Saturday night. The Tigers battle and trade a few punches with Alabama for a half. However, the Crimson Tide is the better team and pulls away in the second half.
Prediction: Alabama 31, LSU 20