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Alabama vs. LSU Football Prediction and Preview

Alabama vs. LSU Football Prediction and Preview

Alabama vs. LSU Football Prediction and Preview

One of college football's greatest rivalries is set for the 85th time on Saturday in the most unusual of circumstances. Although a far cry from the No. 2 vs. No. 3 battle witnessed in Bryant-Denny Stadium a year ago, top-ranked Alabama heads to Baton Rouge to meet LSU to take on an unranked Tigers team for the first time since Gerry DiNardo was on the sidelines in 1999. This time around, LSU hopes to disrupt the Crimson Tide's easy 2020 ride to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta in a game that was originally scheduled for Nov. 14 but was postponed due to the Tigers' COVID-19 issues.

When Alabama (8-0) steps off the bus at Death Valley looking at home, there is good reason. The Crimson Tide are 8-0, ranked No. 1 in the country, and own an all-time 28-9-2 record on their rival's home turf. Adding to the swagger, Alabama just took down another bitter rival, then-No. 22 Auburn, 42-13 in style.

After a three-game road swing that dates back to October, LSU (3-4) hopes to find solace in Tiger Stadium this weekend. The Tigers escaped Arkansas with a 27-24 win to put a victory in the month of November but took an ugly 20-7 road loss to No. 5 Texas A&M in Week 13. Call it a defensive struggle, or an offensive lapse, both LSU and A&M ended up with 267 yards of total offense.

No. 1 Alabama at LSU

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. ET

TV: CBS

Spread: Alabama -29.5

When Alabama Has the Ball

Even if the talking heads have been slow to accept Alabama quarterback Mac Jones as one of the best in the nation, the stats don't lie. Jones is just 82 yards behind SEC leader Kyle Trask (2,810) while attempting 46 fewer passes and leading his conference peers in completion percentage (76.2) and quarterback rating (208.0). The junior gunslinger is coming off one of his better performances of the season, completing 18 of 26 for 302 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in the Iron Bowl rout of Auburn.

Balancing out the offense is senior running back Najee Harris. Harris is that rare mix of speed and power capable of getting the tough yards between the tackles while scoring from anywhere on the field. Harris has scored at least one touchdown in seven of the team's eight games, with a season-high five trips into the end zone against Ole Miss. Helping Harris find running lanes is outside target DeVonta Smith. Once Jaylen Waddle went out with an ankle injury in the Georgia game, Smith has stepped up in a big way. He's averaging 148 receiving yards per game with eight touchdowns over the past four contests.

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During a season when LSU fans were expecting to face some adversity, the drop-off on defense has been dramatic. The Tigers are allowing 302.9 passing yards and 140.4 rushing yards per game with the opposition lighting up the scoreboard for 30.3 points per outing. Not good signs entering a matchup with one of the nation's most explosive offenses.

When LSU Has the Ball

The hard times for LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger got a lot harder this week when leading receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. decided to opt out of the season and focus on the 2021 NFL Draft. Marshall was third in the SEC in yards (731) and touchdowns (10). Marshall's ability to draw double-teams, which helped open up things for other pass-catchers as well as assist the running game is not easy to replace. Extra defensive attention will be shown to true freshman tight end Arik Gilbert, with Jaray Jenkins and Kayshon Boutte seeking to fill Marshall's void.

LSU's offensive line is staring down a mountain that is Alabama's defensive front. The Crimson Tide are holding teams to 119 rushing yards per game and have yielded a total of seven touchdowns on the ground. The Tigers have been woefully inconsistent running the ball, producing the SEC's second-worst attack at 111.7 rushing yards per contest. Tyrion Davis-Price is emerging as the go-to back after netting 104 yards with a score on 24 carries against Arkansas, but he was then stymied for 18 net yards on 11 attempts in the loss to Texas A&M.

Against the Razorbacks, true freshman quarterback TJ Finley was willing to take what the defense gave him, finishing with 271 passing yards and two touchdowns. But he followed that up with a dud against Texas A&M, going 9-for-25 for 118 yards with two interceptions. Against quality defenses, Finley has yet to perform well. Facing Alabama without Marshall is sure to bring extra blitzes with the Tide's secondary feeling confident about manning up the Tigers' receivers.

Final Analysis

When Terrace Marshall Jr. opted out, college football fans were robbed of seeing Alabama corner Patrick Surtain II taking on LSU's top NFL prospect; the game's marquee draw. What's left is seeing LSU prepare for 2021 with their ongoing youth movement and Alabama tuning up for the SEC Championship Game.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Alabama

Head coach Nick Saban had an eight-game winning streak going against LSU until dropping a 46-41 thriller at home a year ago. Expect the Crimson Tide to take step one in the beginnings of another streak.

Prediction: Alabama 56, LSU 13

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— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.