3 Key Factors That Will Ensure An Alabama Win Over LSU
It's almost here, one of the biggest games of the college football season. Alabama. LSU. Tuscaloosa. #2 vs. #4. Simply put, it doesn't get much better than this.
The two Goliath's of the SEC over the past 10 years will face off for their annual match-up this Saturday, and while this one may not be the "Game of the Century" that the 2011 game was, it's still huge and will certainly have an impact on not just the SEC West standings but who might represent the SEC in the 2016 College Football Playoff.
The Crimson Tide are looking to win their fifth in a row against the Bayou Bengals, and hoping to stay in contention to win the SEC West. However, a loss for Alabama will knock them out of both the race for the West and the College Football Playoff. So what must they do in this game to make sure this doesn't happen?
It seems like special teams are often ignored when it comes to a huge match-up like this, but they'll play a large part in this game, and if Alabama wants to win, they can't afford sub-par play from their specialists.
Now, it's important to note that this isn't exclusively punting and/or kicking. Punter J.K. Scott is a rare talent, so you half expect him to have an outstanding day, and Adam Griffith is back to kicking confidently, but the Tide absolutely can't play less than stellar on kick/punt coverage, with LSU only averaging 18.27 yards/return on kickoffs, the 18th worst in the country. If the Tigers are able to rail off a couple big kick returns, it'll give their ground and pound offense even less field to eat up with outstanding back Leonard Fournette.
Also, they must put their offense in a beneficial spot to play the field position game on kick/punt returns. The Tide average 9.31 per punt return, which isn't great, but isn't terrible, placing them at 54th in the nation in that category. If they can manage a couple good punt returns, that'll first mean that the defense was able to hold the LSU offense to a short gain on that possession, but will significantly shorten the field for an offense that seems like they're beginning to find an identity behind the legs of "El Tractorcito," Derrick Henry.
The next key to the game that will guarantee Alabama a victory is actually not on the field itself. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is a proven offensive genius, and he likes to give defenses as many different looks as possible throughout the game. However, this sometimes puts the offense in precarious situations, especially when things seem to be clicking and firing off on all cylinders.
If the Tide are showing that they can move the ball down the field during the game, we'll all see if Kiffin will continue the same game plan or if he'll deviate to see what else might work against the LSU defense. This game has the potential to be a low-scoring game, so any idea as to how to move the ball down the field with consistency will be integral to the ultimate outcome. Whether it involves sticking to just one aspect or implementing a multitude of formations or plays, he'll need to find an identity for this offense, because it's well known that LSU has had their offensive identity since game one.
It's obvious that the match-up between the front seven of Alabama and the LSU running game will be the focus of this colossal meeting, but one of the most important battles to watch Saturday night is how the Tide secondary matches up with the Tiger receivers.
Sure, the easy way of approaching this is, "Oh come on McMoney. Alabama has the best pass rating defense in the conference and LSU is the worst passing team in the SEC. How is this an important part of this game?" But for those who may be asking this, you may not be aware of the Tigers' success throwing the ball over the past three games.
Passing isn't just analyzed by how many yards you gain in a game. An accurate depiction of how efficiently a team can throw the ball is by how many yards they gain on average per pass attempt. This takes into consideration both accuracy and the number of yards a team gains with each completion.
With that being said, LSU has averaged 10.24 yards/attempt over the past three games (for reference, TCU is the only team in the country that averages more than 10 yards/attempt over the course of the season). And let's not forget that they've also thrown for seven touchdowns and no interceptions during the same time frame. This is astounding considering how well they've ran the ball throughout the season with Fournette (1352 yards, 7.68 yd/carry, 15 TDs).
Most people will be watching the proverbial arm-wrestling match between the Bama front seven and the LSU running game, but that match-up is just a façade when it comes to the entire chess match between the Tide and Tigers. If Alabama is able to win these three keys to this game, then it'll be an easy win for the Crimson Tide. If they can't, then the Bayou Bengals will have a great chance of pulling the upset in Bryant-Denny Stadium.