The Crimson Tide travel to Baton Rouge to take on the Tigers on Saturday night
Death Valley will be rocking on Saturday night, as Alabama travels to Baton Rouge to take on LSU in a clash of top-five teams in Week 10. The Crimson Tide have cruised to an 8-0 start behind quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, but this matchup will be their toughest so far of the season. On the other sideline, LSU has exceeded preseason expectations by ranking No. 3 in the first release of the CFB Playoff Top 25. The winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat to win the SEC West title and play in Atlanta for the conference title in early December.
During Alabama’s 8-0 start, all eight of its victories have came by 22 or more points. The lowest margin of victory for the Crimson Tide came against Texas A&M (45-23) on Sept. 22. Coach Nick Saban’s teams at Alabama are usually led by a strong defense and rushing attack, but the 2018 version features a high-powered offense that’s simply outscoring every team on the schedule. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is the frontrunner to win the Heisman going into Week 10, as the sophomore has passed for 25 touchdowns and 2,066 yards to zero interceptions this season. Alabama’s defense is more vulnerable than in recent years, but this group hasn’t slipped too far from its perch among the best in college football.
Ed Orgeron’s promotion from interim coach to full-time role at LSU was met with some skepticism, but he guided the program to a 9-4 mark last fall and is off to a strong start in 2018. The Tigers opened the year with a new offensive coordinator and featured uncertainty at quarterback and at the skill positions. However, Orgeron’s team has navigated a brutal schedule, picking up wins against Miami, Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State. The lone defeat came at Florida, losing 27-19 on Oct. 6. It’s possible a two-loss team could work their way into the CFB Playoff this season, so even a close defeat to Alabama would be noteworthy for LSU. However, the Tigers clearly have their sights set on running the table the rest of the way and earning a SEC title.
Alabama holds a 52-25-5 series edge over LSU. The Crimson Tide have won six in a row against the Tigers and three straight in Baton Rouge.
Alabama at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -14.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Alabama’s Offense Against LSU’s Defense
The numbers on Alabama’s offense are simply staggering through the team’s first eight games of 2018. The Crimson Tide average 54.1 points per game and 8.3 yards per play. Additionally, this unit converts third downs at a rate of 56.2 percent and has connected on 12 plays of 50 yards or more.
In previous years, Alabama’s offense was led by a strong rushing attack. Saban’s group still has plenty of talent in the backfield, but the focus of the offense has shifted to the quarterbacks and receivers. As mentioned above, Tagovailoa is the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy and has yet to take a snap in the fourth quarter of a game this season. The sophomore is adept at reading defenses and putting the ball in space to let his playmakers deliver after the catch. He also possesses the arm strength to connect on big-time plays downfield or deliver a touch pass to a receiver on the move over the middle. Additionally, Tagovailoa has yet to toss a pick and is completing 70.4 percent of his throws.
Helping Tagovailoa’s Heisman campaign is one of the nation’s top receiving corps. Jerry Jeudy leads the team with 31 catches for 777 yards and 10 touchdowns, but Henry Ruggs (24 for 444), Jaylen Waddle (21 for 457) and DeVonta Smith (21 for 409) will be involved. Smith suffered a hamstring injury against Missouri on Oct. 17 and did not play against Tennesse but seems to be on track to return this week. In addition to Jeudy, Ruggs, Smith and Waddle, tight end Irv Smith has 22 catches for 384 yards, with running backs Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs combining for 19 receptions in 2018. Simply, this is a deep group of receivers that can hurt defenses in a variety of ways.
While Tagovailoa is the nation’s best quarterback and Alabama has a loaded group of receivers, LSU can counter with a secondary that ranks among the best in college football. The Tigers rank fifth nationally in pass efficiency defense and have allowed only seven passing scores this season. Additionally, this unit is limiting quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 50.6 through eight contests. Cornerback Greedy Williams and safety Grant Delpit are poised to earn postseason All-America honors and headline this unit for coordinator Dave Aranda. Junior cornerback Kristian Fulton is also having an outstanding season opposite of Williams.
This will be a matchup of strengths. Can LSU’s pass rush and secondary find a way to contain Tagovailoa and Alabama’s receivers? Or will the Crimson Tide offensive line keep Tagovailoa away from rushers, allowing him plenty of time to pick apart this secondary? Even if Tagovailoa has success through the air, the Tigers have to limit the big plays allowed and make this offense drive the length of the field.
2. LSU QB Joe Burrow
It’s no secret the must-see matchup will be on Tagovailoa and Alabama’s offense against LSU’s defense on Saturday night, but Burrow’s performance will be critical to the upset hopes of the Tigers. The Ohio State graduate transfer has been a big-time addition for LSU’s offense, throwing for 1,544 yards and six touchdowns to three interceptions. Burrow also has 250 rushing yards and four scores.
Burrow’s numbers aren’t as prolific as Tagovailoa’s, but the junior has provided stability and a steady presence under center. Most importantly, Burrow is adept at getting the offense in the right play and limiting mistakes, which LSU will need in order to beat Alabama on Saturday night. Justin Jefferson (30 catches) has been Burrow’s go-to target, with Stephen Sullivan (15) and Dee Anderson (15) rounding out the top playmakers in the receiving corps.
Alabama’s defense had to replace a handful of key contributors from last year’s unit, including a few standouts in the secondary. The Crimson Tide haven’t suffered much on the stat sheet, allowing just 15.9 points a game and 4.7 yards a play. Alabama also ranks fourth in the SEC versus the run (113.4 ypg allowed), first in sacks (26) and fourth in pass efficiency defense. While those numbers are solid, it’s worth noting Arkansas posted 31 points against this unit, and the Crimson Tide have allowed 12 plays of 30 yards or more. In 14 games last fall, Alabama only allowed 13 plays of 30 yards or more.
With the turnover in personnel in the secondary, combined with the big plays allowed this season, Burrow and his receiving corps should have opportunities to connect downfield on Saturday night. Can they take advantage and hit a few deep balls to prevent Alabama from stacking the box too much? Injuries hit the Tigers hard on the offensive line this fall, but Orgeron’s group should be near full strength, especially with guard Garrett Brumfield back in the lineup. For LSU to win, its going to need a standout effort from the five starters in the trenches.
3. Which Team Runs the Ball Most Effectively?
The two quarterbacks in this game dominate most of the pregame buzz, but don’t forget about the rushing attacks. These two teams have consistently churned out some of the SEC’s top backfields in recent years, and the performance of the ground game will play a crucial role in Saturday’s game.
LSU’s ground game entered 2018 looking to find a replacement for Derrius Guice. Despite losing Guice, the Tigers have been productive on the ground. Nick Brossette (697 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (521) yards lead the way for the Tigers. Both Brossette and Edwards-Helaire rank inside of the top 11 in the SEC in overall rushing yardage, but LSU is averaging only 4.3 yards per rush. As usual, Saban’s defense is tough against the run. Alabama is limiting opponents to 3.5 yards per rush and has allowed only three rushing scores in 2018. The line is led by three All-SEC candidates in nose guard Quinnen Williams and ends Isaiah Buggs and Raekwon Davis.
Alabama’s backfield is arguably the deepest in college football and faces a LSU rush defense that ranks seventh in the SEC, giving up 130.5 yards a game. The Tigers also have one personnel issue that looms large on Saturday night. Linebacker Devin White is suspended for the first half due to a targeting call in the victory over Mississippi State. Najee Harris (489 yards) and Damien Harris (435) will handle the bulk of the carries, with Josh Jacobs and Brian Robinson also seeing work for the Crimson Tide.
LSU will be the toughest test Alabama has faced this season. The Tigers’ standout secondary should present a few problems for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and his group of receivers. However, while the Crimson Tide are more vulnerable on defense than in recent years, will LSU generate enough drives on offense to win this game? The formula to a victory for Orgeron’s team has to include a couple of takeaways, control time of possession on offense, perhaps generate a score or big play on special teams and win the battle in the trenches. The Tigers have to keep Alabama’s offense on the sidelines, while the defense has to give some ground between the 20s, hoping to force this team into field goals. LSU’s home crowd provides a boost early, but Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide offense does enough in the second half to secure the victory.