This might be the easiest game preview I have ever written. I mean, every fan in the SEC, nay … in college football knows where these two teams are currently in the pigskin landscape. Alabama is 7-1 overall, 4-1 in SEC play, and No. 2 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. LSU is 4-4 overall, 2-3 in SEC play, and looking long in the rearview mirror at their No. 17 preseason ranking.
The Crimson Tide come into this game off of two impressive wins, 49-9 at Mississippi State and 52-24 at home against Tennessee. The Tigers come into this game having out-gunned Florida 49-42, which was followed by the announcement that head coach Ed Orgeron would depart after the season is done, followed by a tough 31-17 loss at Ole Miss which was not really that close.
One team is coached by Nick Saban and is most likely headed for another SEC Championship Game and possible playoff appearance. The other team has that lame-duck head coach who did not defeat Saban enough and is trying to avoid the program's first losing season since 1999.
Pretty straightforward, right? Let's delve into a few details.
LSU at No. 2 Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Alabama -28.5
When LSU Has the Ball
First off, let's be blunt here. All Max Johnson has to do is play the best game of his life if LSU is going to have a chance. And while we're at it, the offensive line needs to do the same. Both the QB and the big uglies up front have shown flashes at times this season, but neither can even remotely be described as dominant, with the possible exception of that Florida game where the Tigers scored 49 points and Tyrion Davis-Price ran for a country mile. But this week it is imperative for Johnson to be near-perfect. Dare I say, Joe Burrow-esque. And yes, I realize that is unfair to say here, but if you want to pull off the upset, you're going to have to get a transcendent performance from your field general.
Was the LSU running game that showed up against Kentucky and Florida an aberration? In those two games, the Tigers' ground-and-pound attack accounted for 147 and 321 yards, respectively. Other than that, they haven't run for more than 77 yards against their other four Power 5 foes. Overall they are still averaging just 3.6 yards per carry and rank 112th in rushing offense in the country.
Nothing is going to be easy for the Tigers in this game. Even if they hope to try to re-enact the successful running game they had against the Gators and Wildcats. It doesn't look likely as the Tide comes in as the fourth-best defense against the run, holding opponents to 89.5 yards per game.
When Alabama Has the Ball
Well, obviously the Crimson Tide doesn't have to do anything special here. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? They are 10th nationally, averaging 494 yards per game and 6.8 yards per play. Sophomore quarterback Bryce Young is playing like a seasoned veteran, John Metchie III has emerged as one of the top go-to receivers in the country, and Jameson Williams is in the top 20 nationally, averaging 88.9 receiving yards per game. If anything, the running game will probably get leaned on a little bit more here, given LSU's lax ground defense (84th in FBS, allowing 166 ypg). Brian Robinson Jr., go have yourself a day.
No team in the country has done a better job of converting on third down than the offense of the Crimson Tide, to the tune of a brisk 58.5 percent. Conversely, LSU's defense is down at 12th in the SEC at stopping teams on third down, allowing opponents to convert 44.8 percent of the time. Obviously, in a big game like this, the Tigers will need to put Bama in third-and-long as much as possible and bear down to get their offense back on the field. Oh, but if they don't make it on third down, the Tide also are tops in the SEC in fourth-down conversions, converting seven of nine. So there's that.
The Tigers have no choice; they must blitz Young early and often like Texas A&M did to get him off his game. And they have two things going for themselves here. First off, the Bama O-line is a little vulnerable, having given up 13 sacks in the last three games alone. And secondly, the most successful aspect of this LSU team is the pass rush. The Tigers are third in the SEC and 15th nationally with 24 sacks on the season.
Well, this one is a no-brainer. I mean, there IS a reason Alabama is picked to win by more than four touchdowns. The biggest indicator is the defenses that will trot out onto the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium, with the Crimson Tide holding opponents to 309 yards per game, while the Tigers are allowing 409. This series has always been predicated on defense, one way or another.
But I will say that this is still considered a rivalry game. And rivalry games are tough to predict. Don't get me wrong, I'm not having a hard time picking the Red Elephants to stampede to a win. I just can't figure out if they'll win by four touchdowns or more. Something tells me LSU will show some amount of pride and make it a little bit closer than the boys in Vegas think.
Prediction: Alabama 42, LSU 24
Podcast: Week 10 Predictions, CFB Playoff Rankings Debate and Conference Expansion News
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.