- KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. CT
- SITE: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
- TV: CBS
- RANKINGS: Alabama No. 1, LSU No. 3
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though he has yet to participate in the rivalry, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has a good feel for what facing Alabama will be like.
“I'm not scared of this game,” he told reporters in Baton Rouge this week. “No one on this team is scared of this game. If you're timid, then don't come out of that locker room.”
Alabama feels the same way.
Even though the Crimson Tide has wonseven straight in the series dating back to the national championship game at the end of the 2011 season, it’s still the one in which Alabama sees comparable talent and is usually the most physical during the regular season.
This year’s edition (7 p.m. CT, CBS) will feature the teams ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, respectively, at what many believe is the toughest setting in college football, Tiger Stadium.
The last three times the Crimson Tide visited Baton Rouge the games were all remarkably close: 10-0 in 2016, 20-13 in overtime in 2014, and 21-17 in 2012.
Plus there’s still that thing about Nick Saban having built LSU up to national prominence and winning a national title. He’s since won five at Alabama since coming back to the college game in 2007 following a short stint in the NFL.
“I remember it was very loud, crazy atmosphere, which I like,” Alabama senior linebacker Christian Miller said about the 2016 trip. “I liked the excitement of that. This is what you come to a school like Alabama for. I remember it was just back and forth, very physical, and overall just a matchup of two heavyweights going at it. I expect nothing less this game.”
But both teams are considerably different, especially offensively.
While Burrow may not have the most impressive stats -- having completed 120 of 223 passes for 1,544 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions, for a passer rating of 118.2 – he’s been clutch while running a more open offense.
“I don't think this team is like any LSU team we've seen in recent years in terms of what they're doing on offense,” Saban said “They're going fastball, they're playing tempo, they're a lot more open formations than what they have been in the past. They're not in the I-formation just trying to run the ball against people. Creating a lot more issues and problems for you the way they utilize the personnel.
“They also play with great intangibles when it comes to toughness and trying to finish plays and the effort they're playing with, the competitive spirit they're playing with is really, really exceptional. And that's why I think they're having success.”
Meanwhile, Alabama has geared its offense behind sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the early frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. He’s 107-for-152 (70.4 percent) for 2,066 yards and has yet to play in the fourth quarter this season.
With the diverse passing attack, four wide receivers already have 400-plus receiving yards and junior tight end Irv Smith Jr. is quickly closing in at 384. In comparison, LSU has one.
“A lot of double moves, creative routes, seven routes, chair sevens we call them, smash routes,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “They know how to attack coverages. They're very well-coached.
“But, you know, we have some good DBs.
Sophomore cornerback Greedy Williams and sophomore safety Grant Delpit were named to the Associated Press’ midseason All-American team. No one seems to remember that Alabama’s Deionte Thompson was the other safety on the first team, but LSU leads the nation in interceptions with 14.
According to CFB Film Room, the starting quarterbacks for Georgia, Ole Miss, Florida and Auburn completed just 12 of 40 pass attempts that were 15-plus yards downfield against LSU, with one touchdown and five interceptions. Their completion percentage was 30 percent.
Meanwhile, in throws 15-plus yards downfield Tagovailoa is 32-for-45 for 1,032 yards and 15 touchdowns. It works out to 71.1 percent.
· Left: 8-15 220 3
· Middle: 8-12 350 3
· Right: 17-28 462 9
Overall, Tagovailoa leads the nation in passer efficiency, with a 238.8 rating that’s on pace to set break the national record. He’s had 25 touchdowns without having an interception.
“There's been plenty of times where I should have thrown an interception, but I was lucky the guys didn't catch the ball,” Tagovailoa said.
Obviously, something has to give with the matchup.
LSU players have been saying that they’re going to attack Tagovailoa in new ways, but there’s no way to compensate for his quick release and ability to turn nothing into something. Plus, Alabama’s line has only allowed five sacks, half the number of the next best team in the SEC.
LSU’s offensive line has yielded 18 sacks, while Alabama leads the league with 26. In that respect, Orgeron better hope his declaration of "It's a big man's game. This game is always won in the trenches" isn’t true.
Alabama is third in rushing offense and fourth in rushing defense. LSU, which has played a tougher schedule so far, is sixth and seventh in those categories.
So it could come down to the quarterbacks.
"We've been underdogs in quite a few games this year, and I'm pretty sure we won most of them,” Burrow said.
The inside slant on LSU
Orgeron didn't try to con anyone this week. He could have lapsed into coach-speak and said it was "just another game" or maybe the most important game only because "it's the next one on the schedule."
But he acknowledged the obvious, that it’s not just another game. It’s the benchmark for the program, plus with a win Alabama will clinch the SEC West and a spot in the league championship game.
"We understand this is THE game,” the coach said. “Now, when it comes down to game time, there's going to be an excitement in the air that's going to be different for this game. This just happens this way. That's how it is LSU versus Alabama. There's nothing I need to say or do this week to get these guys fired up."
In addition to the game being played after sunset at Death Valley, LSU has played a much tougher schedule than Alabama, with three wins over teams ranked in the top 10 at the time. The Crimson Tide has faced just one ranked opponent so far, No. 22 Texas A&M.
“You come into Tiger Stadium, it's loud,” Orgeron said. “You're going to be
under some stress. Play our defense, you're going to be under some stress. We expect this to be an exciting game, match-up. We expect this to be a battle for 60 minutes. There's going to be stress on both sides."
Saturday’s game is just three weeks after LSU played the other participant
in last year's national championship, then-No. 2 Georgia 36-16. The Tigers dominated at home.
"We know this as a football team: we have to be hungry, we have to play our best to
play with anybody, and when we do play our best we can play with anybody," Orgeron said. "We have gone out and played a complete game against some teams, and we have seen the results.
"We've gone out and kind of misfired, struggled a little bit, didn't win against
Florida when we should have won that game. I feel like we were the better football
team. We've gone out and played some lesser opponents, kind of played to their level, and the game didn't look as good as we wanted. I think this team is mature enough to understand that all they got to do is play their best to beat Alabama. If we play our best, we're capable of doing that. We feel that already. Now we have to go out and do it."
Alabama players to watch
• Tagovailoa tops the nation with a passer rating of 238.8 while tallying 25 touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s completed 107 of 152 passes for 2,066 yards, also rushing 26 times for 123 yards and two scores while only taking 315 snaps.
• Nose tackle Quinnen Williams has had a week to rest after another dominating performance against Tennessee, which frequently double-teamed him to no avail. If LSU can’t nullify him and the Crimson Tide defensive line it’s going to be a long night for the Tigers.
• Senior running back Damien Harris has averaged 6.7 yards through 49 career games, while tallying 2,629 yards and 19 touchdowns on 395 career attempts. However, he’s had just one 100-yard rushing game this season, and it was against Arkansas State. This is the kind of game he came back for as a senior, so don’t be surprised if Alabama turns to him in the season half.
LSU players to watch
• Guard Garrett Brumfield has missed five games with a knee injury, but is expected to be back for Alabama. Look for the Crimson Tide to challenge him and see what kind of rust he has.
• Linebackers Patrick Queen/Micah Baskerville are expected to take turns filling in for leading tackler Devin White, who will miss the first half due to a controversial targeting penalty. Queen will probably get the most snaps early due to having more experience. White is the emotional leader of the defense and could give the Tigers a big emotional lift during the second half.
• Burrow doesn't have to pass for more yards than Tua Tagovailoa, but he has to play his best game of the year if LSU is going to have a chance. That means no turnovers and being efficient with his passes.
• Series history: Alabama leads 52-25-5 and has won the last seven meetings. The Crimson Tide won 24-10 last season in Tuscaloosa.
• Injury watch: Quarterback Jalen Hurts was considered day-to-day this week due to a high ankle sprain. Wide receiver DeVonta Smith (hamstring) is on target to return from a hamstring injury, but may not start.
• Quote to note: "I know and everybody knows how big this game is for the state of Louisiana, for our football team. I know the energy in the state of Louisiana and the energy in the stadium is going to be something that we haven't seen for a long time." – Orgeron