The game of the century. At least in the southern states. No bigger game in college football when No. 1 and No. 2 square off. Especially in the regular season when this type of occasion is rare. In fact this has never happened in the history of the mighty SEC. That will change on Saturday night when LSU and Alabama will battle to see who is the best team in the nation at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
How big is this game? Tickets are going as high as $5,000 according to ESPN. In this economy that’s plenty of cash to spend on a football game. But this is the south where football is more than a game. It’s a religion and Tuscaloosa is the Vatican.
Which makes Nick Saban the pope. The current Alabama coach and former LSU coach has led both schools to national titles and is considered the best coach in all of college football. His opposite number Les Miles also has a national title with LSU in 2007 but many fans considered it Saban’s team, since Saban recruited the majority of those players. Now Miles has his own players and is looking to reach Sainthood in Louisiana. (Even though New Orleans does have an NFL team bearing that name but I digress.)
One thing is certain, this should be a defensive battle. LSU are ranked 2nd in the country in overall defence allowing just 11.5 points per game. Their defence reminds me of Jimmy Johnson’s defence at the University of Miami and the Dallas Cowboys of the early 90s. A smaller but very fast, up-tempo front 7 who will pressure the quarterback at all times. A strong secondary with excellent cover corners and hard-hitting safeties. This defence can do it all and it will not let up until the final gun sounds. LSU likes to mix up its blitz schemes because of their speed and it does confuse many opponents. The key player is sophomore cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. Standing only 5’9 don’t let his small stature fool you. The “Honey Badger” can cover any receiver or come off the edge to blitz the quarterback. A playmaker if there ever was one, Mathieu is extremely dangerous in the return game as well.
On offence LSU will be led by quarterback Jarrett Lee who is having a terrific comeback season. After sitting on the bench for most of last season, Lee replaced Jordan Jefferson, who was suspended at the start of the season, and has been poised and clutch in his play. Lee has thrown 13 touchdown passes and only 1 interception. His game management skills will be crucial against Alabama. He’ll have Spencer Ware to handle the running game. The sophomore tailback has been a bruising force for the Bayou Bengals. Very difficult to stop between the tackles, Ware has rushed for 512 yards and 6 touchdowns so far this season. Watch for Ware to have an impact on this game. Russell Shepard is the big play receiver that Alabama must take heed with. Despite missing the first 3 games, Shepard is rounding into form and will be called upon to stretch the Alabama secondary.
The Tide are no slouches either. Alabama has the number one defence in the country, only giving up 6.9 points per game. A big powerful defence that clogs up the middle and is very physical. Alabama can and will use various blitz schemes to confuse opposing offences. Their linebackers are vital to the Tide’s success and they will give LSU various looks and coverages. Courtney Upshaw in particular is a player to watch. The senior has recorded 4.5 sacks to go with his 27 tackles and 1 interception. Upshaw will line up just about anywhere and is adept to dropping back into coverage or blitzing the quarterback. LSU will have to pay special attention to Upshaw.
On offence the key player for Alabama is junior running back Trent Richardson. The 224 pound tailback is an absolute beast to tackle and is the driving force behind the Alabama offence. Richardson leads the nation in rushing with 989 yards and 17 touchdowns. If he gets going the Tide should have success. Richardson takes a lot of pressure off quarterback AJ McCarron. Despite struggling earlier in the season, the sophomore QB has bounced back by throwing for 10 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. It will be in Alabama’s best interest if McCarron doesn’t have to win the game for them. Marquis Maze is the Tide’s leading receiver with 39 receptions for 482 yards and a touchdown. Maze may not be Julio Jones but is a reliable receiver who makes key catches when called upon.
Prediction: Yes Bryant-Denny Stadium will be rocking and the atmosphere favours Alabama. Richardson is an outstanding running back but I feel he may struggle against the speed of LSU’s defence. No team has looked better than LSU all year and I have a hunch they sneak away from Tuscaloosa with 20-16 victory over the Tide.
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