TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Heading into Alabama’s top-15 matchup against No. 13 LSU, we enlisted a little help to get a feel for the Tigers ahead of the game Saturday.
Question: From what you can tell, what are some of the noticeable differences in this team now under Coach O compared to the first month of the season when Les Miles was in charge?
Hickey: He’s living up to the name Coach “O” in more ways than one. Though he’s a defensive line guy by trade, Orgeron loves for offense to be played the way it was during his tenures at USC. He’s given Steve Ensminger total control of the offense, and the playbook has been expanded to include plays that LSU practiced but rarely ever ran in games under Miles and Cam Cameron. More guys are involved. Every receiver gets onto the field now, even if some of them are mostly used as blockers and might get one target every other game. The whole team just seems to be more engaged.
Q: How does LSU’s defense plan to contain Jalen Hurts and Alabama’s rushing attack?
Hickey: Opponents aren’t having much success running against the Tigers in general. They trust their ends/outside linebackers to get into the backfield, even against Alabama’s standout tackles. But they need to be stout up the middle. Whether Dave Aranda has anything special up his sleeve to help Greg Gilmore or whoever else might be lined up at nose tackle in the 3-4 remains to be seen. But I’m willing to bet he’ll be able to think up a thing or two that a freshman quarterback may not have seen yet.
Q: Is Danny Etling the quarterback to put LSU over the Alabama hump, and will the offensive line be able to give him enough time in the pocket?
Hickey: I really don’t know. Auburn is the only truly good defense Etling has faced, and Carl Lawson gave the O-line plenty of headaches in that game. But Etling has more confidence and a better selection of plays than he did in that game, so it’s possible he could play well enough to get this done if the loss of Eddie Jackson in Bama’s secondary is an even bigger deal than we realize. Even if the pocket crumbles, Etling has shown good footwork against pressure, so he might be able to buy himself some time that way. (Then again, none of those defenders were as quick as Alabama’s.)
Q: Last year was a tough game for Leonard Fournette. What type of game do you see him having this season?
Hickey: Our Nick Suss broke down Fournette’s game last year. Those 19 carries for 31 yards came on only five different running plays. That won’t be the case this year. And there is more of a threat that LSU can throw than there was last season. I don’t expect Fournette to crack the century mark, but something in the neighborhood of 85 yards seems realistic to me. Between he and Derrius Guice, I think LSU will get over that 70 yards per game the Tide have allowed on the ground.
Q: What’s your feel for the game and prediction?
Hickey: It’s going to be a defensive battle. I can’t imagine any way it isn’t. And I expect that the crucial play of this game is going to be made by someone on defense. Of course, Alabama has made a habit of that this year. I think the Tide will win, 20-10.