By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Whether you are for or against it, the rematch is set for Jan. 9 in New Orleans. Alabama and LSU met in Tuscaloosa earlier this year, with the Tigers claiming a 9-6 overtime victory. Since the inception of the BCS in 1998, no conference has had two teams play for the national championship. However, that's about to change as the Crimson Tide and Tigers will invade New Orleans for their second meeting of 2011.
What does LSU need to win the national title? Athlon will have an extended breakdown before Jan. 9, but here's five things to watch when the game kicks off in New Orleans.
1. Stop Trent Richardson – Much like defenses trying to stop LSU’s offense, the way to beat Alabama is to take away its rushing attack. In the first meeting between these two teams, Richardson was held to 89 yards on 23 attempts. The junior leads the SEC with an average of 131.9 yards per game in conference play. Richardson also made a big impact in the passing game in the first matchup, catching five passes for 80 yards. Stopping the run is priority No. 1 for the Tigers, but they also have to do a better job of keeping Richardson contained out of the backfield.
2. Jordan Jefferson or Jarrett Lee? – Jefferson took control of the No. 1 spot on the depth chart after the win over Alabama, but did not play well in the SEC title game against Georgia. Jefferson completed only 5 of 13 throws for 30 yards and one touchdown against the Bulldogs, while Lee has tossed only 12 passes in the last five games. In the first matchup between these two teams, Jefferson and Lee combined for just 91 yards on nine completions. Alabama’s secondary is one of the best in the nation, which won’t make life easy for the quarterbacks. However, LSU might want to shake up the offense and get both players involved. Lee would allow the Tigers to open up the passing game more, while Jefferson can hurt the defense with his legs. LSU doesn't need 300 passing yards, but can it win with under 100 yards again?
3. Unleash the Honey Badger – Alabama probably isn’t going to give Tyrann Mathieu many opportunities to touch the ball on special teams. Why not give the Honey Badger a shot on offense? Of course LSU can’t ask Mathieu to play 20 plays on offense, but how about less than 10 snaps? Mathieu is averaging 16.2 yards per punt return and 9.8 yards on fumble returns this season. Why not get him in the game on a reverse or running out of the Wildcat? If nothing else, Alabama will have to devote attention to Mathieu, which could open up the possibility for a big play by someone else on the LSU sideline. Considering points and first downs will be at a premium, getting Mathieu involved on offense isn’t a bad idea.
4. Win the Turnover Battle – LSU finished the regular season No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin. The Tigers forced 30 and only lost eight on offense. In the first matchup between these two, the turnover battle was tied at two. Considering how close the first contest was, a fumble or interception could be the deciding factor. Neither team has a big-play offense, but the Tigers could probably use more help in this area, particularly with an inconsistent passing game. Although LSU rallied to beat Arkansas and Georgia, it does not want to face an early deficit.
5. Let the Punter Win the Game – Seriously. That’s not a joke. LSU punter Brad Wing is among the best in the nation, averaging 44.1 yards per punt and placing 23 of his kicks inside of the 20. While it may seem strange to lean on your punter, Wing can flip field position and back opposing offenses deep into its own territory. Although LSU or Alabama can’t win the national title by being ultraconservative, there’s no reason to take unnecessary chances either. With Wing’s ability to pin opponents inside of the 20, LSU doesn’t need to be afraid to punt the ball and put its defense back on the field.