Saturday, #6 Alabama will travel to Baton Rouge to take on #10 LSU in a top 10 matchup between two SEC West rivals. Last month LSU coach Brian Kelly delivered his post-game speech to his players with the line “November is for contenders,” and it couldn’t be more truthful, starting with this game Saturday. Alabama and LSU are in a three-way tie with Ole Miss for first place in the SEC West. While the winner of this game Saturday doesn’t clinch the division, it does put them in the driver’s seat.
Here are five things to look for in this SEC West rivalry game:
If Alabama wants to beat LSU, it all starts with stopping LSU dual-threat quarterback Jayden Daniels. The Tide has faced two other dual-threat quarterbacks this season with mixed results. The Crimson Tide was successful against Arkansas’ K.J. Jefferson but not so much against Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker who delivered Alabama it's only loss of the season. Out of the three quarterbacks, Daniels is the most balanced, being both a dynamic runner, as well as an accurate passer, throwing for 1,812 passing yards for 12 touchdowns and just one interception all season. On top of his passing stats, Daniels is also the leading rusher for LSU, recording 524 rushing yards on 113 carries and 9 touchdowns. The Crimson Tide defense will need to play a disciplined game scheme Saturday if they hope to contain the star quarterback for LSU.
Alabama’s offensive line has been inconsistent all year long but seemed to be improving until the Tide’s last game where they were only able to accumulate 29 rushing yards against Mississippi State. While that may be acceptable against a lesser foe, if that kind of production shows up against a top 10 LSU team, Alabama will find themselves on the outside looking in at the College Football Playoffs. The Crimson Tide pass protection has been pretty solid all season only allowing 12 sacks on 284 dropbacks, and they will need to continue this success against a solid LSU pass rush led by BJ Ojulari. Ojulari has caused 31 quarterback pressures and four sacks in just six games this season. To put this in perspective, highly touted Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. has 37 quarterback pressures and six sacks over eight games.
If there was ever a time for the Alabama pass rush to have a breakout game, this would be it. So far this season the Crimson Tide pass rush has created a great amount of pressure and quarterback hurries, but the sack numbers have been a slight letdown considering the high expectations Will Anderson Jr. and company had coming into this season. Saturday, LSU will trot out two true freshmen at both tackle spots, Will Campbell at left tackle and Emery Jones at right tackle. Both Campbell and Jones have shown their youth and inexperience throughout the season as LSU opponents have had success rushing the quarterback off the edge, which happens to be Alabama’s strength. Bama defensive coordinator Pete Golding should be excited to draw up some blitz packages to attack and confuse the inexperienced tackles for LSU.
Road games have been a disaster for Alabama so far this year; turnovers, penalties, and bad defense have been the theme for the Tide when they travel away from Tuscaloosa. This Saturday will not be any easier as they will be heading into Death Valley for a night game, in arguably the toughest road atmosphere in all of college football. However, Nick Saban has only lost at LSU once, in 2010, since taking over the Alabama coaching job in 2007. For the most part, the games at LSU between these two teams have not been as close as you would expect, with Alabama winning the past five trips to Baton Rouge by a total score of 135-40. This year should be a much closer contest as LSU has closed the gap with Alabama, mainly by the addition of new head coach Brian Kelly. Will Alabama handle the road trip like they have in recent trips to LSU, or will they continue to rack up penalties and give up turnovers like they have in road trips this season?
Alabama fans are not going to want to hear this, but outside of Tennessee, LSU could have the best receivers the Crimson Tide secondary will face all season. Luckily for Alabama, LSU transfer Eli Ricks has emerged as an excellent complementary piece to go along with shutdown corner Kool-Aid McKinstry. Both Ricks and McKinstry will have their hands full with the LSU receiving group led by Malik Nabers. Nabers leads LSU with 36 receptions and 455 receiving yards. Also, the Bama secondary will be facing a projected high NFL draft pick in Kayshon Boutte, the Tigers second leading receiving threat with 21 catches for 288 yards. Boutte did not play against Alabama last year due to a leg injury, but in 2020, Boutte had 8 catches for 111 yards in his only game against the Crimson Tide.
Although it would be nearly impossible to have as entertaining of a football game as the game against Tennessee was, this matchup against LSU sets up to be one of the more intriguing games of the year, especially with control of the SEC West on the line.
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