The reality for Alabama is that LSU, Auburn will be no easy feats
LSU is going into a game against a top-ranked opponent supremely confident.
Before LSU practiced on Wednesday last week, defensive back Dwayne Thomas told reporters, “I feel like we have the edge to take it to them, and we’re going to take it to them and I feel like we’re just going to dominate this game,” when speaking of the upcoming game against Alabama.
If Nick Saban wanted bulletin board material, he didn’t have to work hard to receive it.
Alabama has swagger and confidence without being overconfident. One could say the same about Auburn, the toughest team left on Alabama’s schedule. Auburn is positively frightening for any opponent with the most efficient passer in the SEC in Sean White, plus both Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson at running back.
Since offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee took over full play-calling duties, Auburn is 5-0 and the team’s offensive stats have shot off the charts.
“Sometimes believing is more important than what you are,” Lashlee told reporters at his press conference this week. “Our guys have a lot of confidence right now.”
That’s been the difference. Auburn has the same swagger it showed in 2013 when it eventually played for a national championship. Alabama possesses the same swagger. Neither team has tensed up when playing from behind.
Meanwhile, several LSU players are offering confident predictions ahead of Saturday’s game against the Crimson Tide. Leonard Fournette called it a “fact” on SEC Now when asked if LSU would beat Alabama. There’s nothing wrong with being confident, especially when a team holds home field advantage, and Tiger Stadium is one of the most challenging stadiums for opponents. However, providing extra motivation to a heated game probably isn’t the most prudent move.
Interestingly, Auburn’s defensive coordinator this season, Kevin Steele, was at LSU last season and previously coached under Saban at Alabama, too. Les Miles made a flashy move by hiring Dave Aranda as his new defensive coordinator, but the real problem was on the offense and Cam Cameron played a role in Miles’ firing.
Steele did well as Alabama’s linebackers coach in 2014 and did reasonably well last season at LSU. No, the defense wasn’t as dominant as it had been under John Chavis, but the defense allowed a season-high 38 points against Ole Miss. Alabama allowed 43 points to Ole Miss last season and this season.
Alabama has made it through a string of three tough games relatively unscathed. LSU has had a string of three strong wins, too. And then there’s Auburn’s five straight wins, all of which started with a win against LSU.
LSU’s winning streak began after the Auburn loss after Miles’ firing. Of course, Ed Orgeron was elevated to interim head coach and Steve Ensminger was promoted to offensive coordinator. LSU has taken off offensively with Derrius Guice emerging as a top back and Fournette appearing fully healed from a nagging ankle injury. If convincing wins over Missouri and Southern Miss didn’t bring believers on the bandwagon, the Tigers’ impressive win over Ole Miss might have.
It will be interesting to see what asserts itself: LSU’s power running game or Alabama’s opportunistic, athletic defense. Meanwhile, Danny Etling (60.5 completion percentage) hasn’t been nearly as accurate as Sean White (SEC-best 68.5 percent), but he’s thrown for 200 yards in each of the last three games and has complemented the Tigers’ run game well.
To be clear, LSU presents one of the toughest games for Alabama this season. A&M appeared to be near the top. The Crimson Tide checked the Aggies off the list, but LSU and Auburn have gotten hot at exactly the wrong time for Alabama.
One thing seems likely: Alabama will be tested in both of these games in ways it hasn’t thus far this season. Regular season contests between LSU and Alabama the last five years have been decided by 14 points or less four times, two decided in overtime. This season isn’t likely to be any different. Of course, the Iron Bowl is one of the most heated rivalries in the country and anything can happen.
The College Football Playoff rankings will be released Nov. 1, and Alabama is likely to be at the top, but the two most challenging contests await before the team is to stay at the top.