By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Saturday's LSU-Alabama matchup is one of the most-anticipated games in recent memory. Athlon Sports breaks down a few keys for each team and its chances at victory.
Click here to read Alabama's keys to beat LSU.
1. Stop Trent Richardson and force AJ McCarron to win the game.
Sure, it’s easier said than done, but this is the way LSU will have to attack Alabama. McCarron hasn’t had to do much in his first year as the starter, completing 67 percent of his throws for 1,664 yards and 10 scores. Richardson has at least 100 yards in six games this season, and LSU’s goal should be to keep him under the century mark. Although McCarron has been solid through the first eight games, this will be his toughest test. Despite giving up 463 yards to West Virginia, LSU’s secondary ranks 10th nationally in pass defense. And cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne are dangerous on returns if they are able to force a turnover. The Tigers need to make McCarron prove he can make key throws with the game on the line – something the Crimson Tide haven’t had to do so far in 2011.
2. Unleash Russell Shepard?
An early suspension seems to have knocked Shepard out of sync with the LSU offense. Through five games, he has caught only nine passes for 116 yards and two scores. The Tigers know what Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham can bring to the table this year, but Shepard has been quiet. Is this the game he breaks out? The Alabama secondary will likely match up Dre Kirkpatrick against Randle, which makes the play of Beckham and Shepard even more important. The junior rushed for 47 yards in last year’s win over Alabama, but caught only one pass. Shepard’s all-around ability could be a valuable commodity for LSU on Saturday night. Although he’s been silent for most of this season, the junior could emerge as a key player in LSU’s offensive attack.
3. Give Jordan Jefferson more time under center.
While Jarrett Lee has been solid all year, this game is where a two-quarterback system makes sense. Jefferson has been mostly kept under wraps since his return from suspension, rushing for 111 yards and two touchdowns. The senior has also completed 6 of 10 passes for 123 yards and two scores. It’s always dangerous to break up an offense’s rhythm if Lee is playing well. However, if the Tigers are struggling to move the ball, Jefferson would give them a different dimension. Running in the traditional sets figures to be difficult against a very good Alabama defense. Getting Jefferson an opportunity to run out of the shotgun with a blocker or two leading the way could work in favor of the Tigers’ offense. And who knows, maybe LSU has a few trick plays getting Jefferson and Lee on the field at the same time.
4. Stick with the rushing attack and avoid long-yardage situations.
LSU’s rushing game might not have the big-play capability that Alabama brings to the table, but it is averaging 4.3 yards per carry. The Tigers have done a good job of keeping defenses off balance this year, and that has to continue on Saturday. Although quarterback play from Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee has been solid, LSU does not want to be placed in obvious passing situations. If the Tigers can muster three or four yards a carry, they should be able to keep Alabama’s defense honest. If LSU can’t get Spencer Ware or any of the running backs on track, the Crimson Tide defense will easily keep the Tigers in check. The best way to beat Alabama seems to be scoring early. The Crimson Tide have not allowed a score in the second half in its last four SEC games. Once Nick Saban and his coaching staff have a chance to make halftime adjustments, moving the ball in the second half is very difficult. The Tigers might have to test the Alabama secondary deep early on, especially to keep the safeties from trying to camp out along the line of scrimmage. It’s not the most glamorous offense, but LSU needs to be patient, and stick to its run-first approach throughout the game.