If you haven’t heard by now, LSU is playing Alabama in Tiger Stadium on Saturday night.
Correction, if you haven’t heard by now, get away from that rock under which you’ve been hiding!
Jokes aside, the eyes of the sporting world are again on Baton Rouge, and everyone is asking me the question – can the Tigers beat the massive and powerful Crimson Tide?
My answer? Maybe, maybe not.
Let’s dig deeper.
For LSU to beat Alabama, a number of things must happen.
The first thing is obvious – the Tigers must play their most clean game of the season.
By clean, I mean as mistake-free as possible.
If LSU commits bone-headed pre-snap penalties (like they’ve done all season), they will lose – by a wide margin.
If the Tigers continually line up with too many – or too few – men on the field, they will be walloped by two touchdowns.
Alabama is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But they do not beat themselves – something LSU has a tendency to do from time to time.
Pre-snap penalties and bone-headed mistakes will thrust the Tigers into third and long situations.
Third and long situations against Alabama have two usual outcomes. The first is punt. The second is interception. Neither is good for the Bayou Bengals.
With interceptions now on our minds, we can state the second factor in this game – turnovers.
It takes a Herculean effort to drive the ball 80 yards down the field on either of these defenses – it just doesn’t happen very often.
Naturally, the easiest way to get into the end zone against either team is through a short field.
That means turnovers are of utmost importance to both teams in this game.
If Zach Mettenberger gets hit and the ball pops loose a couple times, the Tigers don’t stand a chance.
But if Eric Reid and the opportunistic LSU defense step in front of a few AJ McCarron passes, the Tigers can get a few easy points and can dethrone the defending kings of college football.
I know it sounds like obvious football jargon because turnovers are important in any football game.
But against a foe as ferocious as Alabama, everything is magnified even brighter.
Away from the pre-snap penalties and turnovers, LSU must win first down – on both sides of the football.
Both LSU and Alabama are run-oriented teams. Both will usually look to the ground to create short yardage situations.
If the Tigers are able to gash the beastly Alabama front-seven, they have a chance.
But if the Crimson Tide are the ones controlling the line of scrimmage, expect the scoreboard to reflect their dominance in the trenches.
In the first meeting between the two teams last season, the Tigers out-rushed the Tide 148-96.
In their BCS National Championship Game rematch, Alabama responded and outrushed 150-39.
It’s not a coincidence that the team who won the rushing battle won each game.
I suspect the same will be said following Saturday night’s game.
The last facet of the game that LSU must master to beat Alabama is special teams – the most underrated facet in football.
Again – just look to last year for a clear-cut example.
In the first meeting between LSU and Alabama in 2011, Tigers’ punter Brad Wing single-handedly won the game for the purple and gold, pinning the Crimson Tide inside their own 10-yard-line with four of his six punts.
Alabama drove out of that hole in many of those instances and strung together a few first downs.
But the Tide’s drives eventually stalled, which forced long (and missed) field goals.
If those drives started 10 or 15 yards further up the field, Alabama’s 50-yard kicks would have been 35-40-yard tries – the entire landscape of the game would have been different.
The team that controls field position through special teams will have a major leg up in this game.
Wing has been struggling this season to regain the rhythm he had as a freshman. If he has a solid game Saturday, all of yesterday’s struggles will be forgotten, and he will be a hero.
Now it’s time for the hard part – making a prediction.
Everything in my gut tells me that Alabama has a better team than LSU.
Trust me, it makes me want to vomit saying that, but my eyes just don’t lie.
Alabama’s offense is more efficient than LSU’s and their defense is more opportunistic and turnover-hungry.
Their special teams have been more explosive than the Tigers’ and they just seem to have the winning pedigree and formula that often decides big-time games.
In terms of coaching, Nick Saban is pretty easily the best college football coach in America. That’s not a knock on Les Miles in any way, but I think results show Alabama has a decided edge on the sidelines in this game.
But with all of that said, I will go with LSU in this game, and I will tell you why – Tiger Stadium.
It’s hard to win in Death Valley – darn near impossible.
It’s even more difficult at night.
The Tigers have won 21-straight home games – a streak that dates back to 2009.
Looking at the past two meetings between these teams in Tiger Stadium shows why I’m picking the Tigers.
In 2010, Alabama was the defending national champions and were loaded with returnees, fielding a roster that included Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Trent Richardson, Mark Barron and C.J. Mosley.
They lost to the Tigers in Baton Rouge 24-21.
That LSU team was nowhere near the best in the country and had a struggling Jordan Jefferson under center.
Go back in time further to 2008 – that’s another example of the power of Death Valley magic.
In that year, Jarrett Lee was LSU’s quarterback. This was his infamous pick-6 season.
Despite an inability to complete a forward pass to the correct team (Lee threw four interceptions in the game), LSU lost just 27-21 to the Tide that season – a game that went into overtime.
The Tide’s roster that season was again loaded with NFL talent.
This year, the talent gap is closed and it’s actually LSU who has more “draftable” players within the game.
College kids are easily flustered. We sometimes forget they are 19 and 20-year-old kids.
I expect Alabama to be slightly flustered and unable to execute to the same level that they normally perform.
For that reason, give me the Tigers in a 14-10 game.
May the team that plays the cleanest game win.