They call it Death Valley, the place as LSU head coach Les Miles put it earlier this season, “Where opponents’ dreams come to die.”
When the Tide and Tigers tee it up this Saturday night in Baton Rouge, it will be the third time the two colossal teams have faced each other in the last year.
The first two battles were epic; at least from a Bama fan’s perspective. Will game three bring the same emotion, drama and gridiron struggle as the first two?
Not so fast my friend.
You’d be a fool to predict a cake walk for Alabama on the road in Baton Rouge this Saturday night. LSU will clearly be the best opponent the Tide has faced this year. Unlike Mississippi State, where fans play dress-up and pretend they are a legitimate program, the Tigers have proven their stake on the college football landscape.
However, as good as LSU is, Alabama is better. As CBS’ Gary Danielson put it earlier this week, appearing on the Finebaum radio network:
“I see three elite units on the field: The LSU defense and the Alabama defense are obviously in the elite category of college football. The Alabama offense has earned the distinction of being in the elite category. When this game was played a year ago in the regular season they couldn’t say that.”
Danielson can be whiny, and can interject too much into a football game, in my opinion. But you can’t argue, the man knows what he’s talking about. He went on, talking about what both sets of defensive coaches have learned from the past two meetings:
“The other team can’t win when the defense only has to defend half the field, or ten and a half players. To really win this game you have to let your quarterback be involved too.”
“AJ has earned that right, and he did it in the national championship game. At this point, LSU has not gotten their quarterback play up to championship level.”
“I know LSU without extreme help from Alabama cannot beat Alabama with 10 1/2 players. I’m not sure if they use their quarterback they can win, but I’m positive they can’t win without him.”
“Unless LSU’s quarterback comes through Alabama is going to have to help them.”
Finebaum also spent some time with ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, who gave the only scenario for an LSU victory:
“I think it’s pretty simple. I think LSU’s only chance of staying in this game and being competitive is their defense, which by the way, their defense is still an LSU defense. If the LSU defense does not create turnovers, which has been a real strength of Alabama, and get a short field for Zach Mettenberger, there’s no way they (LSU) can win this game.”
“They’ve got to suffocate this Alabama offense, which nobody’s been able to do.”
He then went on, talking about the seemingly insurmountable task teams are up against when Alabama comes calling:
“With Nick Saban and Kirby Smart’s defense, because it’s so sophisticated, each guy is kind of a part, kind of a cog to the machine and each guy knows his role. You very rarely see a bust when you watch Alabama, and that’s very uncommon when you watch college football. You’re typically going to see a guy who’s out of a gap, who makes a mental mistake, whatever it might be, and they give up a big play.
“You don’t see that from Alabama. They’re buttoned up. They’re very efficient. They disguise coverages. They own third down on defense. If they get you to third and six plus, your goal is just not to turn the ball over. And what they do is they show a variety of different looks, and it confuses the offensive line. And then you have this aura and reputation. When they get you to third down, there’s almost a ‘Oh no.'”
“But what’s different about Alabama now is the quarterback. If you can’t get pressure with your front four and have to put eight or nine in the box to stop the run, you leave your corners on an island and McCarron will make you pay.”
Before the season LSU purists looking for rainbows and leprechauns hailed Zach Mettenberger as the next great quarterback in the SEC…practically reserving a spot for him at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York in mid-December.
Instead, we’ve learned “Simple Zach” is hardly a threat to win a game for you. So, what in the world is Simple Zach going to do when Kirby Smart and Nick Saban have him seeing upside down with more coverages, blitzes and packages than he’s ever seen in one game in his life?
Lose, that’s what.
Forget Tiger Stadium. This Alabama team has played in formidable venues before. Forget the build-up. This is a program that’s pretty accustomed to standing up and thriving in the kind of spotlight that puts most teams on their backs.
Simply, Alabama is a complete team and LSU is not. So unless Bama suddenly abandons every characteristic that makes them Alabama, the result will be a hard fought but decisive victory Saturday night for the Crimson Tide.
As an LSU friend posted on his facebook page this week:
“I’m not saying we won’t beat Alabama. I’m just saying the Capital One Bowl isn’t such a bad place to spend the new year.”
It’s that reality and the logic laid out by two of the game’s best analysts today that’ll likely keep the Tide’s dream alive and well after Saturday night…despite Death Valley.