College football is chock-full of rivalry games that pull fans in from across the country. From the Red River Showdown, to the “Victory Bell,” and “The Game,” when teams like Texas and Oklahoma, UCLA and USC, or Michigan and Ohio State square off, no matter the records, that matchup is a must-see event. The Alabama vs. LSU rivalry dates all the way back to 1895 but has never been more contentious as in the past 10 years making this annual showdown one of college football’s best.
Winning and losing a rivalry game can be the difference between keeping and losing one’s job, just ask former LSU head coach Les Miles. Miles had been the most successful SEC head coach squaring off against Nick Saban in conference action since he took over as head coach for the Tide in 2007 with three wins, but that wasn’t enough. Alabama’s current five-game winning streak against LSU started with a 21-0 victory in the BCS National Championship game on Jan. 9, 2012. This is a run Tigers fans are more than ready to see come to an end.
Once again, Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) is the Goliath of college football, ranked No. 1 in the nation in both the Associated Press and Coaches Polls and looking unbeatable. Now all LSU (5-2, 3-1) has to do is find a way to knock off the defending national champions with interim head coach Ed Orgeron calling the shots. Both rosters are filled with great talent in all three phases of the game, but each team has weaknesses that can be exploited. For LSU, is this the year to end Saban’s hold on the Tigers?
5 Reasons Why LSU Will Beat Alabama
5. Revenge for LSU
The Tigers have 15 seniors ready to leave Baton Rouge in style, with a win over Alabama. Only redshirt seniors on the roster have ever experienced the thrill of beating the Tide. Once the ball kicks off, and the first couple of hits have been had in the opening series, emotion takes a backseat to play, but an added perk to an LSU win is giving Orgeron a feather in the cap win with a wink and a smile to Miles. The cherry on top is potentially derailing Alabama’s national title defense in the College Football Playoff.
4. LSU Quarterback Danny Etling
This may be the shocker on the list, but statistically speaking, Etling is starting to come into his own. He has played in parts of six games, starting five, and has thrown for only 449 fewer yards than Alabama starter Jalen Hurts. The Purdue transfer has thrown for 1,129 yards to Hurts’ 1,578. Etling has seven touchdowns compared to just three interceptions, while Hurts has posted a 12:5 TD-to-INT ratio.
Etling has been at his best lately, completing better than 61 percent of his passes for an average of 228 yards per game in wins against Mississippi State, Auburn, Southern Miss and Ole Miss. If LSU can get the run game going and the defense limits the Crimson Tide’s offense, then another solid, mistake-free game from Etling could put the Tigers in position to pull off the upset. Alabama is giving up just 204.4 passing yards per game and has nearly as many interceptions (eight) as touchdown passes allowed (nine), so Etling will need to be at the top of his game against this defense.
3. LSU’s Run Defense
This unit is salty, even without senior defensive lineman Christian LaCouture. Alabama is averaging 264 rushing yards per game, No. 11 in the FBS. The stats are tangible but misleading. Alabama can trout out leading rusher Damien Harris (87 att., 697 yds., TD), Josh Jacobs (53, 391, 3), or Bo Scarbrough (51, 306, 5), but stopping Jalen Hurts from moving the chains with his legs will be the difference in the game. In big games against Ole Miss and Tennessee, Hurts rushed for 146 and 132 yards respectively, while also scoring three times on the ground in the rout of the Volunteers.
Alabama has not faced a run defense like LSU yet this season, with all due respect to Western Kentucky. The Tigers are No. 8 in the nation, holding teams to 104 rushing yards per contest. On the flip side, LSU has faced a very good run team in Auburn. The other Tigers are 27th in the country (126.6 ypg) against the run, but LSU finished with 220 rushing yards on 32 carries (6.9 ypc) in an 18-13 loss back on Sept. 24. That was Les Miles last game as head coach.
2. LSU’s Pass Defense
The Tigers arguably faced the best pocket passer in the SEC in Chad Kelly when they downed Ole Miss. Kelly, the SEC’s leader in passing yards, threw for just 218 yards while completing just 20 of his 33 attempts with one touchdown and two interceptions in the LSU’s 38-21 victory two weeks ago. Hurts is averaging 197 passing yards per game and is a dual-threat signal-caller like Kelly. The Tigers also held Kelly in check in that respect with just 56 rushing yards on 12 carries.
If LSU’s defense wins on first and second down forcing third-and-long situations, Hurts, a true freshman, isn’t accustomed to putting his team on his back. Tigers defensive end Arden Key is one of the SEC’s best pass rushers with eight sacks on the season. LSU’s secondary is loaded, especially at safety with potential All-American Jamal Adams coming up to stuff the run and dropping back to defend the pass. Tre’Davious White and Donte Jackson have made quarterbacks pay for throwing their way. Both have two interceptions on the season with White breaking up seven passes and Jackson eight.
1. Leonard Fournette
After struggling with an ankle injury the first half of the season, Fournette looked like his old self against Ole Miss. The junior phenom piled up 284 rushing yards on just 16 carries with three scores in powering LSU to a 38-21 win over then-No. 23 Ole Miss. The ankle injury has already cost Fournette three games and impacted his play at other times, but the 6-foot-1, 235-pound workhorse enters this game arguably fresher and healthier than he has been at any point this season. With the rust knocked off against the Rebels and then a bye week to recover and prepare, Fournette should be raring to go Saturday night.
Fournette also has some extra motivation for this game following some pedestrian performances against Alabama. In 2014, he managed just 79 yards on 21 carries with no touchdowns in a 20-13 overtime loss. He was even less effective last season, held to just 31 yards on 19 attempts. The 2015 virtual no-show not only derailed Fournette’s Heisman Trophy hopes, it also sent the Tigers into a three-game tailspin that completely changed the complexion of their season and raised questions about Miles’ future.
— 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. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.