Is Alabama no longer a power running team? LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson believes LSU is tougher than Alabama
By Dave Friedman
LSU travels to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, and while no other road team feels right at home in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers have reason for optimism. LSU (7-2) has won five of their last six meetings on Alabama’s home field. LSU leads the nation in wins against Alabama since 2000 (9), 2005 (5) and 2007 (3). That being said, Alabama has won four of the last six games in the series, and the unbeaten Tide have played just one competitive game this season.
Both teams were off last week, but their path to this rivalry game has varied significantly. LSU is just 2-2 in their last four games against FBS competition while Alabama has allowed a total of 26 points since their shootout win over Texas A&M on September 14. While Alabama has won this season by an average margin of 31.5 points, LSU has allowed nearly double the 59 points given up this year by the Tide.
For the Tigers to win, they will need big plays from perhaps the best wide receiver duo in the country. Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry have combined for 106 catches, 1,891 receiving yards, and 16 scores this year through the air. Beckham Jr. leads the SEC and is second nationally in all-purpose yards averaging more than 207 per game. He raced 109 yards returning a field goal attempt for a touchdown against UAB in September. Landry is a third down monster. He is second in the NCAA with 342 receiving yards on third down, and leads the country in third down receptions of 15 yards or more, 25 yards or more, and third down touchdowns.
“The combination of these two guys are as good a receivers as we’ve played against all year long,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban. “They have the speed to get on top. Very smart route runners. They do a good job of putting them in various positions that makes them difficult to cover and get the kind of matchups on that you’d like.”
Along with quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who ranks among the nation’s most efficient passers and has already passed for 2,292 yards and 19 scores, LSU coach Les Miles is confident in his team’s ability to excel on offense.
“We like the match up,” said Miles. “We think that we kind of give them some challenges on the perimeter. We got a quarterback, first of all, that can make the throw and several receivers that can get open in space. Again, who we are playing, they are a very good team, but we think there is a match up there that benefits us.”
During last years 21-17 Alabama win in Baton Rouge, LSU limited the Tide to one of nine on third down and a total of just 52 plays. However, last year the Bengal Tigers held opponents to 17.5 points a game while this year they are allowing 21.9 points a contest. Moreover, LSU is just eighth in the SEC this season allowing 148.4 yards a game on the ground.
The Tide are 57-0 since the start of the 2008 season when they rush for at least 140 yards. Only 12 times have they won in that span and not rushed for 140 yards. During the 69 total victories, Alabama is averaging 218 yards a game on the ground. TJ Yeldon has scored 10 times on the ground and picked up more than six yards per attempt this year. Kenyan Drake has scampered into the end zone seven times and is worth nearly eight yards a touch. Derrick Henry has only 21 attempts this year but has put together 216 yards on the ground.
LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson is not only ready for Alabama’s running game, but suggests that despite tremendous success, the Crimson Tide have changed what they’re doing.
“Alabama is not a big power team like they used to be,” said Johnson. “They run more zone, and it’s probably (because) they can’t be more physical. At LSU, we want to be more physical and punch people in the mouth.”
Saban doesn’t agree, and is excited to see just how well LSU can stop his ground game. Asked about the pro-style, two-back, smash-mouth style of play when these teams get together, Saban said, “I like this kind of football. This is more the kind of football that we grew up with.”
How LSU defends the run, and Alabama’s ability to limit big plays in the passing game, will go a long way towards determining a winner.