The annual matchup between Alabama and LSU is one of the SEC’s must-see games every year, and 2014 is no different, as both teams rank among the top 15 nationally. There’s more at stake on Saturday night for the Crimson Tide after ranking No. 5 in the second release of college football’s playoff committee standings. The Tigers ranked No. 16 and are a longshot to make the final four. However, coach Les Miles’ team still has plenty to play for, including a spot in one of college football’s premier bowl games.
LSU has rebounded from an 0-2 start in SEC play to win its last three conference games. The Tigers had a bye last Saturday but defeated Ole Miss 10-7 on Oct. 25. Alabama suffered its only defeat at the hands of the Rebels but has won three in a row, including a 59-0 destruction of Texas A&M.
Alabama owns a 48-24-5 series edge over LSU. The Crimson Tide has won five out of the last seven meetings against the Tigers. However, Alabama is 1-1 in its last two trips to Baton Rouge. LSU coach Les Miles is 5-5 in 10 career games against the Crimson Tide.
Alabama at LSU
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback Play
The basic approach by both teams is pretty simple: Run the ball and play defense. That statement might be too simplistic, but both offenses want to establish the run to take the pressure of their quarterback. Both signal-callers in this game are under the microscope, as both have experienced their share of ups and downs this season. Alabama’s Blake Sims won a battle with Jacob Coker for the starting job in the fall, and Sims opened the year by throwing for 250 yards in the opener against West Virginia. Sims has played well at times this year but tossed a costly interception against Ole Miss and completed 52.4 percent of his throws in an ugly 14-13 win against Arkansas. While Sims hasn’t been overly prolific, he’s been more successful than LSU’s Anthony Jennings. The sophomore made his first career start in the Outback Bowl last year and carried that momentum into the fall to claim the job over touted freshman Brandon Harris. Jennings is completing only 50 percent of his passes and went just 8 of 16 for 142 yards and two interceptions in a 10-7 win over Ole Miss two weeks ago. Against Power 5 opponents, Jennings has not completed more than 50 percent of his passes in a single contest. However, Jennings is tied for third in the SEC with seven passing plays of 40 yards or more. On paper, the edge should go to Sims. For LSU to win on Saturday night, Jennings needs to have his best game of 2014.
2. Stopping the Run
In last year’s matchup, Alabama drastically outperformed LSU on the ground (193 to 43). And taking the advantage on the ground a step further, the team that has an edge in rushing yardage has won the last six matchups. See why this area is important on Saturday night? Both backfields are among the best in the nation, but running room could be limited. Alabama is allowing only 2.7 yards per carry and opponents have managed only two rushing scores through eight games. LSU will attempt to test the defense with four talented running backs, headlined by Leonard Fournette. The true freshman has rushed for 657 yards and seven scores this year, but he averages only 14.6 carries per game. Fournette will share time with Terrence Magee (6.1 ypc), Kenny Hilliard (six scores) and Darrel Williams (250 yards). On the other sideline, Alabama counters with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry – arguably the nation’s best backfield duo – and both players average 5.2 yards per carry. After five SEC contests, LSU’s rush defense ranks ninth in the league, giving up 186.2 yards per game. The Tigers have played some of the league’s best running teams – Mississippi State and Auburn – and have not allowed a rushing touchdown in two games. This is LSU’s toughest challenge on defense since a 41-7 loss against Auburn. Has this defense found the right answers? Or was the improvement on defense due to playing offenses at Florida, Kentucky and Ole Miss? Either way, the battle in the trenches is critical to the outcome on Saturday night.
3. Alabama WR Amari Cooper
Cooper has been the best receiver in college football through the first 10 weeks of the season. The junior ranks second nationally in receiving yards (1,132) and averages 15.9 yards per catch. Cooper was injured in the win over Arkansas on Oct. 11 but has rebounded with 17 catches for 364 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games. Cooper faces one of his toughest assignments of the season on Saturday night, as LSU’s secondary is one of the best in the SEC. Opposing teams have had success running the ball against the Tigers, so coordinator John Chavis’ defense has faced only 259 attempts this year. LSU has allowed only six passing scores and has limited opposing quarterbacks to a 49.4 completion percentage. Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White are one of the nation’s top duos at cornerback and limited Cooper to just three catches for 46 yards last season. This matchup between Cooper and Robinson/White should draw plenty of interest from NFL scouts. But if Cooper is limited by LSU, who steps up at receiver for Alabama? Is it senior DeAndrew White? Or will tight end O.J. Howard get more involved after a slow start (six catches) to the season?
This game has all of the makings of a physical, 60-minute battle in the trenches. Alabama and LSU have similar styles on offense, and two out of the last three meetings in this series were decided by four points or less. Winning at night in Baton Rouge is never easy, but the advantages in this game are in favor of the Crimson Tide. Blake Sims has performed better at quarterback, and Alabama’s defense has been more dominant this year. LSU needs quarterback Anthony Jennings to have success through the air early to open rushing lanes on the ground. If Jennings struggles, the Tigers are in trouble. LSU always finds a way to keep it close at night in Baton Rouge, and Alabama’s struggles in the turnover department (13 lost in 2014) provide a blueprint on how to win. The Tigers need a few breaks to win this one, and Les Miles’ team falls short against a better Crimson Tide squad on Saturday night.