Bama Preview – Turning Point Again?

RECRUITING

LSU will have a number of prospects on campus this weekend, including some big out of state targets.

Most of LSU’s commitments will be on hand to take in the festivities and help recruit the other visitors.  The hope is that the out of state guys strike up a friendship with LSU’s commitments.

Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan should be making the trip.  LSU is very much in the picture with Jernigan and has been for some time.  Right now, it looks like Florida State is LSU’s biggest competition, but Florida is recruiting him as well.  It will take a great visit in order for LSU to remain in contention with Jernigan.

Quarterback Jacoby Brissett, linebacker Curt Maggitt, and tight-end Nick O’Leary will all be on hand.  All three guys are high school teammates.  LSU has been heavily recruiting Brissett for a while now while they have just recently picked things up with Maggitt.  LSU has excellent chances with both players.  O’Leary is leaning to Florida State, and I don’t think LSU has a real shot with him.  But if both of his teammates want to become Tigers, then maybe O’Leary thinks about joining them.

Some big in-state names are making the trip too.  Newman receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will be on campus.  Newman was recently names a U.S. Army All-American and seems to be really leaning to joining LSU’s class.

Other big uncommitted Louisiana prospects planning to attend include St. Paul’s defensive tackle Mickey Johnson, Thibodaux offensive lineman Greg Robinson, Evangel defensive end Jermauria Rasco, and East St. John defensive back Floyd Raven. Johnson, Robinson, Rasco, and Beckham all hold offers from LSU.

Another interesting Louisiana prospect that will be on hand is Haughton quarterback Dak Prescott, who has been committed to Mississippi State since the summer.  Prescott has enjoyed an impressive senior season, and LSU has reportedly showed some more interest lately.

Looking way ahead, a number of 2012 prospects will be in attendance too.   Some top in-state juniors such as Thibodaux’s Trey Granier and Dutchtown’s Landon Collins will be in Baton Rouge.  A couple of stars from Mississippi will be on hand.  Defensive tackle Quay Evans and defensive end Channing Ward are making the trip.

 

FOOTBALL

In 2008, LSU was ranked #15 in the country when they hosted undefeated Alabama in early November.  LSU lost the game in overtime.  But they did not just lose that game.  They lost their fire for the rest of the season and stumbled down the stretch.  LSU then squeaked by Troy despite a 31-3 third quarter deficit and got embarrassed by Ole Miss and Arkansas.

In 2009, it happened again.  LSU was ranked #9 in the country when they traveled to Tuscaloosa and a lost a close one.  But again, that loss took the wind out of LSU and they faltered down the stretch.  LSU struggled in a win against Louisiana Tech before losing two of their next three, including another to Ole Miss.

Will history repeat itself?  And if so, can Les Miles survive it?

I don’t think Miles can survive another loss to Alabama, followed by another late season collapse, especially if that includes a third straight loss to Ole Miss.  And right or wrong, this only gets magnified when you consider who coaches Alabama and the history there.  Perhaps I’m off base but if 2010 ends the way that 2008 and 2009 did, I think LSU will try their luck with someone else leading the program next year.

So while this game is critically important for LSU’s season, it takes on a much bigger meaning.  It could end up being a turning point in Les Miles’ tenure at LSU, one way or the other.

Narrowing the focus to this season, LSU keeps their hopes alive of an SEC West championship and/or a BCS bowl with a win.   With a loss, LSU is eliminated from contention in the SEC West and will be relegated to playing for position in the non BCS bowl pecking order.

Onto the game, LSU has a much more favorable match up than when they faced Auburn and Cameron Newton.

When Alabama Has The Ball
Alabama’s offense is much more conventional than Auburn’s, and LSU should be able to defend it.  Alabama loves to get physical and run the football, but they rely on balance to really make them dangerous.  They’re certainly capable in the passing game, and if a team sells out to stop the running game, they can really hurt you throwing the ball.  But if you play them straight up, they’re able to run the ball effectively against most base defenses.  Opposing defenses must pick their poison.  South Carolina was able to jump out to a big lead on Alabama, causing them to throw the football and abandon the run.  It’s unlikely LSU can jump out to a similar big lead.

In the passing game, Alabama relies heavily on star receiver Julio Jones.  He is their go-to guy and has twice as many catches as the next guy on the team.  He is also coming off a record setting performance against Tennessee.  The good news is that LSU can match Jones with Patrick Peterson, who has defended him very well the last two years.  Remember, it wasn’t until Peterson was out of the game last year that Jones broke loose for the game winning score.   So if LSU can neutralize Jones with just one defender, they can then dedicate extra guys to stopping the run.  If LSU is able to accomplish this, the big key for Alabama becomes how receivers Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks fare against Morris Claiborne and the rest of LSU’s secondary.

The Tide is not afraid to throw the ball on first down.  Not only is Alabama balanced when it comes to run vs. pass, but they’re also balanced in terms of play calling and when they call each.  They have faith in both.  They key for LSU once again is to force Alabama into obvious passing downs, specifically into third and long.  This is where LSU’s defense can really impact the game.  LSU can get after Tide quarterback Greg McElroy with their blitz heavy “Mustang” dime package that has been so successful this year.  Alabama has given up 22 sacks, which ranks 11th in the SEC.  Meanwhile, LSU’s defense ranks third in the league in sacks, also with 22.   The opportunities will be there for LSU to sack McElroy.  They need to make them count with big negative plays and turnovers.

So if you see Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson picking up big chunks of yardage or if you see Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks snagging numerous passes, then it could be a long day for the LSU defense.  If you see LSU consistently pressuring McElroy and forcing third downs of five or more yards, then LSU has the advantage.

When LSU Has The Ball
This match up does not look real good for LSU but then again, it never does and LSU has still managed to win seven of eight games.  Alabama leads the SEC in scoring defense and is second in total defense while LSU’s offense has been beyond bad.   But there is a little reason to be hopeful for LSU fans.

One of the things that LSU has done well this year is run the football, especially with Stevan Ridley.   Ridley has fallen off his pace in LSU’s last two games, mostly due to a dinged up shoulder.  He’s reportedly healthy now after the bye week and ready to go.  LSU needs to get Ridley going to loosen up Bama’s defense.  It won’t be easy though.  Alabama gives up just 3.8 yards per carry and 113 rushing yards per game.

It has not been very often, but LSU’s passing game has been effective when Jarrett Lee has been in the game AND has had time to throw.  He had fantastic passing numbers against Tennessee and Florida.  Alabama is last in the SEC in sacks with just ten on the year, so LSU should have time to pass.  If Lee can get hot during one of his early opportunities, then perhaps LSU will stick with him and try to attack Alabama’s secondary in this game.  At times, Alabama’s secondary has looked vulnerable.  However, LSU will have to go down the field with some intermediate passes in order to find success.  Bama’s 3-4 defense will eat up all of these short routes that LSU likes to throw, especially when Jordan Jefferson is at quarterback.  With LSU’s big receivers, it’s worth a try on some deep throws to try and get a big play.

Both teams have very good special teams, but LSU probably has the edge.  Kicker Josh Jasper is outstanding, and he might get a lot of work on Saturday.  It’s tough to see an LSU victory without a big return from Patrick Peterson.  It will be interesting to see if Alabama kicks to him.

It’s another big game for LSU and Les Miles, so there is no reason not to expect another crazy game that goes into the fourth quarter. Perhaps the home field can make the difference, but in the end I think Alabama will be too much for the Tigers for the third year in a row.

 

 

 

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