How LSU can stun unbeaten Alabama

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Dave Aranda
LSU’s Dave Aranda is tasked with putting together a game plan to slow down the Alabama offense (Photo: Terrill Weil)

The Mighty Crimson Tide of Alabama invades Baton Rouge for another huge game with LSU on Saturday evening.

College football’s Darth Vader is a 14 1/2 favorite. The last time LSU was that big of an underdog at home was 1999 when Steve Spurrier brought his Florida Gators to town as a 15 point favorite against a floundering team. This LSU team is No. 3 in the country. Remarkable.

The margin of victory for the past 10 games in the Alabama-LSU series is 10.6 points. The past 11 matchups, Alabama has been ranked No. 1 in five of them. Make it six this year. From 2000-2011, LSU won nine times. Since 2008, the Crimson Tide prevailed in nine meetings including the past six.

Can LSU win? Sure. Will they? Let’s look closer.

Some areas of comparison to focus on include the the question of which of the teams are more battle-tested. LSU’s schedule has been more challenging than Alabama’s by a considerable margin. That was recognized in the new College Football Playoff rankings.

Here are some other comparison points of note…

Third down defense: Alabama allows 29.8%, LSU allows 32.2%

Third down offense conversion: Alabama is tops in the nation at 56.1%, LSU is 77th converting 37.2%

Turnover ratio: LSU is +12, Alabama +11

Penalties: LSU 5.6 per game, Alabama 6.1 per outing

Sacks: LSU 18, Alabama 12

The areas of penalties, turnovers and third down conversions will play a major factor. I believe LSU must win at least two of those categories to win.

LSU offense is 19th ranked in country finishing drives. Alabama is 77th finishing drives.

Field goal kicker Cole Tracy is 21 of 23 while Alabama’s kickers are just eight of 12. In a game such as this one, a field goal may play into the outcome.

Alabama’s receivers have not faced the likes of Greedy Williams (21 starts) , Grant Delpit (17 starts), Kristian Fulton (8 starts), John Battle (19 starts) and others in the LSU secondary this season other than their own practices.

The loss of leading tackler Devin White (76 tackles, 7 TFL) will sting for one half, but Tigers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and staff can hold that loss to a minimum. Sophomore linebacker Jacob Phillips (53 tackles, 3 TFL) is capable of a larger role.

Delpit, second leading tackler with 54 stops along with eight TFL, four sacks and five interceptions is playing at a first-team All-American level.

As for the running game, Alabama’s offensive line on the left side is where they make hay. With three future NFL linemen – LT Jonah Williams (6-5, 301, Jr.), LG Lester Cotton (6-4, 325, Sr.) and center Ross Pierschbacker (6-4, 309, Sr.) – are all players who grade highly each game. Brother Martin High School product Irv Smith, Jr. (6-4, 241, Jr.) is projected to go in 2019 NFL Draft.

Jerry Jeudy is the second-ranked receiver in the SEC with 31 grabs 777 yards (25.1 average) and 10 touchdowns. Jaylen Waddle (5-10, 177) is an impact freshman with 21 catches for 457 yards (21.8 average) and three scores. Henry Ruggs III (6-0, 183, So.) has 24 grabs for 444 yards (18.5 average) and seven touchdowns. All are deep threats for the Tide’s amazing triggerman.

Tua Tagovailoa (6-1, 218, So.) is likely the best player in college football. When it comes own to it, the LSU defense must make Alabama’s offense earn it. Past opponents have not been able to prevent the devastating big plays.

LSU’s offensive line will have to protect quarterback Jow Burrow. That will be a tough assignment. Alabama will bring pressure from all angles.

Ruston High product Isaiah Buggs (6-6, 286, Sr.) has totaled 9.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks. Nose tackle Quinnen Williams (6-4, 295, So.) has 8.5 TFL, SAM linebacker Christian Miller (6-4, 244) has 8 TFL, WILL linebacker Dylan Moses (6-3, 233) has managed 42 tackles, 7.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks.

Alabama’s secondary could be a weakness. Former LSU cornerback Saivion Smith mans one spot with 21 tackles and thee interceptions. True freshman Patrick Surtain, a signing day loss for LSU to Alabama, has 16 tackles and a pick. They rotate with Josh Jobe and Nigel Knott. Versatile Kentwood product Shyheim Carter has two interceptions.

Free safety Deonte Thompson (6-2, 194, Jr.) is the leading tackler with 47 stops and 2 interceptions. Strong safety Xavier McKinney (6-1, 197, So.) is active with 36 tackles, two interceptions, three sacks and 4.5 TFL.

LSU cannot allow themselves to fall into third and long regularly so Burrow will have to throw successfully on early downs. If they dig themselves into a hole, Alabama’s defensive line will pin their ears and come with pressure. Burrow will feel pressure on certain passing downs.

Senior tight end Foster Moreau with 26 career starts only has 10 catches for 119 yards, but his contribution goes beyond stats. Short passing game success will be vital to LSU.

A big advantage goes to Dave Aranda’s defense this season. Yes, I am well aware of Nick Saban’s background. However, Aranda has proven he can make adjustments and knows exactly what his troops are can and cannot do to succeed. That’s the product of a much tougher schedule. Aranda makes high percentage defensive calls with an aggressive side to his calls.

If the Tigers can make it close late, their experience in close games and advantage in the kicking game could lead to a wild party in Tigertown.

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Rene Nadeau

Rene Nadeau

CCS/Fox Sports/ESPN/WFAN

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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