Are you ready? Whether you are or not, the main question is if LSU is ready. The Tigers will play their biggest game since the 2012 BCS National Championship Game against the team which defeated them on that January night in the Superdome, nearly eight years ago.
By Matt Zemek
If they win this game.
You could see this collision course coming once LSU defeated Texas in early September. These have been the two best teams in the country in 2019 other than Ohio State. Clemson is doing what it needs to do, but those Tigers in the ACC have not set the high standard LSU has. Can LSU establish an elite level of play against one of the two elite programs in the country? Let’s see what Ed Orgeron and his staff have ready for Nick Saban:
1 – Lead with your strength
The best way to beat Alabama under Saban has always been to hit the big play against the Crimson Tide’s secondary. This was true when Alabama has a great defense, and it has been true when Alabama has a mediocre or slightly above-average defense. When Bama thrives on defense, the long ball is the most reasonable way of scoring. When Bama has a suspect defense – which is the case this year and was also true last year – the long ball is necessary to outscore the souped-up Tide’s offense in a shootout.
This brings us to the most central tension point of the 2019 edition of LSU-Bama: Whereas most LSU-Alabama games have been physical slugfests played between the tackles, and the Tigers would not have a chance of keeping up in a track meet, they do now. This is the year in which LSU’s offense can legitimately expect to outscore Bama in a 21st-century iteration of this game. LSU can trade haymakers and say, “Here is our best offense. We’re not going to worry about ball control. We’re here to score and score some more.”
There is no need to be cautious. The new and reinvented LSU should stride into Tuscaloosa and show no fear about playing this game as aggressively as possible and seeing if Bama can keep up.
The fact that Tua Tagovailoa – whether he plays or not – will be a total mystery in relationship to his health means that LSU should feel supremely confident about its offense and entrust the game to that side of the ball. Trusting LSU’s strong passing game is the cornerstone component of Saturday’s battle.
2 – Role Reversal
Certainly last year, and also in other recent meetings with Alabama, the LSU offense’s task was to control the ball, knowing it couldn’t match up with the Tide in terms of pure firepower. Let’s assume Tua is physically limited, either as a suited-up starting quarterback, as a bench reliever for quarterback Mac Jones, or in street clothes. If Tua is physically limited, this game flip-flops in terms of offensive priorities. Alabama would become the team which needs to control the ball and keep Joe Burrow off the field.
LSU needs to know what Alabama’s offensive capacities are, relative to Tua’s status and how that filters through the rest of the Tide’s offensive approach. Knowing how to strike a balance between shutting off the big play and jumping a short route depends on this awareness of what Alabama needs to achieve on Saturday. This knowledge might be apparent on the first drive; it might be evident midway through the second quarter.
3 – Tackling the Bama receivers
Regardless of whether LSU has to avoid getting beaten deep, or generate a pass rush on Tua to potentially take advantage of his (possibly) limited mobility, or face Mac Jones, this much remains: LSU has to tackle Alabama’s receivers when they make catches or before they get started upfield. Alabama’s receivers are extremely fast and shifty. Not tackling them in open space is the surest way for LSU to lose. Therefore, tackling them dramatically improves LSU’s chances of winning.