Final thoughts on LSU-Alabama ... plus a prediction
Game of the Century, Part II? Part III?
I don’t know. I lose track of these things.
What I do know? We’re in for a massive showdown Saturday between LSU and Alabama. The eyes of the college football world will be fixated on Tuscaloosa.
Is this finally the year that LSU ends the streak? Or will this be another gut punch for the Tigers?
Let’s dig into some final thoughts:
Here’s the real game-time decision involving Tua Tagovailoa
I don’t believe Nick Saban when he says that Tagovailoa is a “game-time decision.” Tagovailoa is playing, despite quotes like this:
Nick Saban said to Tua during a mic’d up segment during practice that just aired on SportsCenter:
“So you know, one of the prerequisites for you playing in this game is you gotta be able to outrun my ass. Aight. You ain’t close yet.”
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) November 7, 2019
I think that’s a reminder that Tagovailoa’s scrambling ability could be limited. It’s easy to take for granted how well he can extend plays with his legs. This year, he’s done a better job of not forcing the action when plays break down.
My question is coming off this tightrope surgery, how confident is Tagovailoa rolling out of the pocket. We won’t know until Tagovailoa does that for the first time against a live defense. Even plays in which he runs out of bounds still expose that ankle. Will he be comfortable operating from the pocket? And how much pressure will LSU send knowing that he could be confined?
I don’t know the answers to that. I’ll say this, though. I’ll be surprised if he has a long touchdown run like the one he had to put the dagger in LSU last year.
The Michael Divinity stuff is significant, but not game-plan altering
The timing of Divinity’s departure certainly isn’t ideal. LSU wants as many pass-rushers as possible on the field. Divinity was certainly capable of doing that. In a perfect world, he would have hurried Tagovailoa into a couple of bad decisions and made his presence felt.
That’s not the case, though. The good news? LSU didn’t use him as an every-down player and the plan is likely still going to be to send pressure at Tagovailoa with some veteran pass-rushers. LSU needs Jacob Phillips and K’Lavon Chaisson to speed Tagovailoa up. Assuming Grant Delpit is healthy, he should have plenty of opportunities to rush off the edge, as well.
It’d be stunning to see LSU sit back and only send 3-4 rushers consistently. It probably won’t be “Third and Grantham” stuff. Tagovailoa is smart enough to find open receivers, all of whom can take it 80 yards in the blink of an eye.
Divinity’s absence certainly gives LSU one less option to disrupt the passing game before it gets rolling, but it’s not as brutal as when LSU lost Devin White for the first half last year.
You know, just in case LSU fans forgot about that.
Take the “over” on Clyde Edwards-Helaire carries
I don’t know what a hypothetical over/under is, but as long as LSU doesn’t fall behind by multiple scores early, I expect to see a heavy dose of Edwards-Helaire. He consistently shows up in LSU’s biggest moments, and I expect Saturday to be no different.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire avoided seven tackles on 15 carries vs. Texas, the third-best ratio among Power 5 backs in Week 2.
Criminally underrated. pic.twitter.com/lLK3B1drBv
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) September 9, 2019
I know what some LSU fans might be thinking. “Why would we run the ball against Alabama when our passing game is historically good and it never works when we try to run the ball against Saban?”
That’s a fair point. I’d argue that the circumstances are wildly different this year. Unlike 2015, LSU’s passing game is what Alabama must stop in order to win. And also unlike 2015, Alabama doesn’t have the No. 1 run defense in America. Saban’s group ranks No. 33 in that department after a season that’s been full of injuries in the front 7.
I have to think that Alabama is going to try to follow the Auburn blueprint against LSU. That is, try to get pressure without blitzing, load up the defensive backfield and do everything possible to make sure Joe Burrow doesn’t get cooking. What happened against Auburn? LSU’s offensive staff adjusted and Edwards-Helaire took over down the stretch.
I’m not saying that exact plan will happen, but I also think that just because the LSU passing game is all the rage these days doesn’t mean the Tigers will refuse to get Edwards-Helaire going. If that’s what’s being given to them, they’ll gladly rip off chunks of yardage and keep the Alabama offense off the field.
How many receivers in this game will be drafted in Round 1-2?
Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle, Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall … my goodness. I can’t remember a game with that much top-level, NFL-ready talent at receiver. My guy Brad Crawford threw out this possibility:
There could be as many as SEVEN Top 50 picks at wide receiver during Saturday’s LSU-Alabama showdown.
Never has there been more WR eye-candy in a single CFB game.
— Brad Crawford (@BCrawford247) November 5, 2019
That’s insane. Those 2012-13 LSU-Alabama games that had Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Amari Cooper had 3 NFL stars at receiver, but the overall amount of receiver talent in this year’s game trumps those matchups.
Waddle, Chase and Marshall are the only non-draft eligible guys in that group. I wouldn’t bet against the possibility of seeing the likes of Jeudy, Smith, Ruggs and Jefferson all leave school early and get picked in the first 2 rounds this year.
It feels inevitable that we’ll get at least one insane catch, much like we got from Ruggs in this game last year.
Henry Ruggs pulled an Odell on LSU with Odell in the building ✋🏾 pic.twitter.com/BO7A3fKK2m
— HypeHub Sports (@HypeHubSports) November 4, 2018
Watching these receivers vs. these secondaries should be one of the best position matchups in recent memory
Speaking of all those great receivers, how many times are we going to get a 50-50 scenario with an All-America matchup? Jerry Jeudy vs. Derek Stingley? Justin Jefferson vs. Trevon Diggs? These are the matchups that could determine who keeps SEC Championship hopes alive.
It’ll be interesting to see how much these defensive coordinators put their cornerbacks on islands against those guys, especially LSU. I have to think the Tigers want to send pressure and trust their cornerbacks to make those 1-on-1 plays. They haven’t avoided those situations all year, but then again, they haven’t faced a group of receivers like Alabama’s.
This battle should help make some of these guys some money at the next level. If someone like Ruggs goes off for 170 receiving yards or Kristian Fulton picks off a couple passes, I can only imagine the NFL eyes that’ll be drooling.
Another reason why 2011 isn’t repeating itself
Because besides the obvious — these offenses are much more potent than they were then — these kickers are, um, not great. The idea of a 9-6 game seems far-fetched for the simple fact that it’s been a rough go in the kicking game.
Cade York has missed either a field goal or an extra point in 5 of LSU’s past 6 games. He hasn’t exactly been Cole Tracy 2.0.
And as per usual on the Alabama side, the kicking game is a total liability. Opening day starter Will Reichard is just 4-for-7 on the year, and he’s questionable after missing last week with a hip injury. It hasn’t been much better for Joseph Bulovas, who is 5-for-7 this season.
Consider that all the more reason for these teams to go for it on every fourth down.
My prediction is…
Call me basic, but I’m going Alabama 35, LSU 28.
Here’s the good news, LSU fans. If the Tigers score that many points and play Alabama down to the wire, that Playoff argument as a 1-loss team gets much better. That’s the biggest thing here. If LSU is going to lose, it has to wildly surpass the 9.1 points it averaged during this streak. I think that’ll happen.
What I also think will happen is that Tagovailoa looks like the elite passer that he is, and he delivers an incredibly gutsy performance. It could include a trip to the medical tent or two, but I’m not betting against him at home.
I believe that whether Saban admits it or not, Alabama has been preparing for LSU for basically the past month. The schedule set up for that, and I think this Alabama defense is tired of hearing about the LSU offense. I think Terrell Lewis and company come out firing and they put LSU in an early hole.
Burrow leads LSU to a more competitive game than what the first quarter indicates, but ultimately, the streak lives on.