The game’s significance doesn’t require an elaborate introduction or a flowery explanation. It’s No. 1 Alabama versus No. 3 LSU. The winner gets the inside track to the SEC West… and the SEC championship… and the College Football Playoff… and the right to avoid Clemson in the playoff semifinals… and the ability to play for the national championship.
By Matt Zemek
Let’s get right into the game keys:
1 – TUA BIG FOR THE TIGERS, OR THE MOMENT IS TUA BIG FOR TAGOVAILOA?
The centerpiece of this game is undeniably the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. This doesn’t mean other players don’t matter. It merely means that Tua is the foremost point of focus. If he is at his best, forget about thinking LSU has a chance. If he plays moderately well and doesn’t make a huge mistake, LSU still faces an uphill climb but would have a chance. If Tua plays moderately well but makes one really big mistake within a moderately good performance, LSU’s odds would improve. Last but certainly not least, if Tua is terrible and the pressure of the night gets to him, LSU would have a great opportunity to shock the world.
LSU rattled Jake Fromm of Georgia a few weeks ago. LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda identified how to play Georgia’s offense. Chiefly, he realized he had to make Fromm win the game. He couldn’t let Georgia run the ball. LSU did stop the running game with the exception of one early drive which ended without Georgia points. Fromm wasn’t able to make big throws. LSU won going away.
Obviously, Fromm is not in the same league as Tua. Only Kyler Murray of Oklahoma is. Nevertheless, the framework of LSU’s plan will include taking away the run to create second and long and third and long.
Then comes the more specific key to the game, the one which will probably decide the whole thing: third and long for Alabama. This is the ballgame right here.
When he has had to complete a pass, Tua has been very accurate. He makes pinpoint throws, but what is even more impressive is that the pinpoint throws come in all shapes and sizes – flat, gunned laser beams, arcing touch passes, passes in the middle third of the field, passes to the sideline, passes to the seams, passes to the flats. He makes every throw.
Why? Partly because he is immensely skilled… and partly because he gets at least four seconds to throw on a lot of his plays. Opposing defenses can’t touch him.
LSU has to get home with the pass rush – maybe not sacking Tua, but certainly getting in his face and making him feel pressure. If LSU can’t do that, it probably won’t do anything else well enough to win.
2 – BALL CONTROL
The best way to defend against Tua: Don’t give him the ball. LSU needs to get into third and two all game, convert third and two, convert fourth and inches if needed, and hold the ball for 40 minutes. LSU won’t win a shootout with Tua. It needs to deny him possession of the ball.
3 – TWO-MINUTE DRILL
Remember the John Chavis end-of-game collapses against Bama teams after 58 great defensive minutes? Let’s avoid those, Tigers. That would help.