Alabama vs LSU: Tigers play some of the best fundamental football; beating LSU feels like a championship
By The Conduit
Saturday night, LSU comes to Tuscaloosa in what seems like a foregone conclusion destination for College Gameday every year, sometimes twice a year. This SEC West rivalry game is always incredible, and for the past 3 years, it has been Alabama who has defined LSU’s season.
Now it is LSU looking to do the same to Alabama. If they lose to Alabama, it means nothing. If they win, Alabama literally defines their season once again. All of a sudden losing two conference games is completely incidental, recruiting takes a positive surge (as if that needed any help at LSU), and dignity is restored after losing so much to Alabama including a national championship and an opportunity at another national championship.
If Alabama were in LSU’s spot right now, I’d feel great.
Instead, I’m worried. I always prepare for a loss against LSU, but this time I just don’t expect a clean game whatsoever. I expect dirty plays and late hits. I expect trick plays, including on special teams and perhaps even an early on-side kick. I expect trash talking, as we’ve never seen. I expect children at the game to learn some new words they know they’re not supposed to hear. I’ve honestly never seen so many middle fingers as in Baton Rouge. We worry about injury to Alabama players, but Saturday we even have to worry about the fans getting hurt. Oregon and FSU might be better teams than LSU. Frankly, I’d rather Alabama face them just to avoid injury and dirtiness.
But games like this are what define champions. Being the #1-ranked team in the nation by a landslide certainly doesn’t make LSU hate Alabama any less. They’ll use that and anything else they can to feed their vitriol for all things Crimson. They’ll come after AJ McCarron and try to take him out, I promise they will. They’ll hit hard enough to make the bye-week feel like a month-long luxury vacation in Hawaii.
And Alabama will hit back.
LSU plays some of the best fundamental football in the country. Frankly, I love the way they play football; I’m not a fan of the hurry-up, magic-trick, Pokémon-on-a-placard style of football that seems to be trying to take over for good fundamental play. The best-case scenario is they play straight-up, but their best football is better than most teams in the top ten, despite their current ranking at #13. If you love traditional college football like I do, it simply doesn’t get any better than this. The score will look more like a baseball game than a round of West coast bowling, and I’m not naïve enough to call that boring or insignificant.
Meanwhile, I keep hearing how LSU players are looking at this Gameday in Tuscaloosa as “just another Saturday.” I’m not sure if that’s as bad as “the red team” mentality Tennessee fueled our fire with, but the truth is it simply isn’t accurate. This isn’t just another game. LSU could lose the rest of their games all year, but beat Alabama and that’s all anyone remembers, including LSU and potential recruits. And they know it.
I expect them to do anything it takes to beat Alabama. The Crimson Tide will have to do more than just bring their A-game. Alabama won’t have any edge for dirty plays, trash-talking, or repeated trickeration. Alabama will use fundamental football to give themselves an opportunity to prove why they are the best in the sport.
LSU doesn’t care about playing away from home, either. Hell, they win more games in Tuscaloosa than at home, and vice versa for Alabama since the 60’s. Don’t forget, Nick Saban as the head coach at LSU was the first to beat Alabama in Baton Rouge since 1969. And Alabama all but lost the game in LSU last year. Yes, Alabama was spectacular and TJ Yeldon’s game-winning touchdown helped define the 2012 season, but don’t forget it was LSU’s clock mismanagement and a missed field goal that gave Alabama an opportunity to win in the first place.
I don’t expect Alabama will be that fortunate with LSU coaching mistakes this year.
LSU is going to do more than play great football. They’re going to use tricks, and often those tricks are successful for LSU. Alabama is going to have to be flawless on offense (red zone turnovers like we saw against Kentucky and Tennessee must be mitigated to zero), they’ll be tested on defense in particular with linebacker and safety vision, and they’ll have no room for error. None.
We know LSU always takes a bye-week before Alabama. But the Crimson Tide (and, more importantly, Nick Saban and his staff) has had time off to prepare as well. Both teams are ready to hit and hurt each other. I’m watching for Alabama to cause turnovers on defense and to control the ball on offense. Limiting mistakes and preventing injury are going to be just as important as explosive plays against LSU. AJ McCarron stamps his ticket to New York with this game (if not Atlanta and Pasadena), but count the number of times he intelligently throws it away and you might need an abacus. Consequently, Alabama is going to have to force Zach Mettenberger to make mistakes. He was 28-for-35 with nearly 300 passing yards against Alabama last year.
It’s going to be a long night. I can’t wait. I saved a cigar from the Tennessee game weekend. I love beating Tennessee, but beating LSU feels like winning a championship. It’s intense, dirty, difficult, and most of all, it’s great football. It simply doesn’t get better than LSU vs. Alabama, even if the Bayou Bengals are calling it, “no bigger than the Furman game.” See you in Tuscaloosa. Roll Tide.