TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — This has become the game.
Alabama has bigger rivals in Tennessee and Auburn historically, but Alabama-LSU has become the must-watch matchup in the SEC.
The winner of this contest has gone on to win the SEC West and the SEC championship game in four of the last five seasons.
No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) travels to Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday for an SEC West clash against No. 13 LSU (5-2, 3-1). Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on CBS.
“There have been a lot of really good games between these two teams through the years,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “It’s kind of developed into a rivalry game of sorts. We’ve both been ranked over the last eight or nine years, most of the time in the top 10. This is a real challenging game for us.
“We’ll find out who we are, what we’re made of and how we can compete in a very difficult circumstance.”
In four meetings in Tiger Stadium during Saban’s tenure, Alabama has needed overtime, a last-minute touchdown and overtime to get its three wins.
These games are typically low scoring, defensive battles. There is almost a consensus on Death Valley being the toughest place to play in the SEC. Expletives are yelled, and at times, it’s hard to hear the person sitting next to you as the crowd noise reaches deafening levels.
“We always love playing LSU, especially at LSU. It’s one of the things you’ll never forget — especially if this is your first time,” Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “So for a lot of guys, this is their first time and they’re just excited for the opportunity. We’re just ready to play.”
The path for Alabama to make a third-straight trip to the College Football Playoff is clear: win and you’re in. The Crimson Tide are in full control of the SEC West as long as they don’t drop a game.
LSU is the first of two remaining tests for the Tide this regular season (Auburn is the other).
The biggest key to victory for Alabama is stopping LSU star running back Leonard Fournette.
Fournette has rushed for 670 yards and 5 touchdowns this season despite missing three games and losing another because of Hurricane Matthew.
Fournette has struggled in two career games against the Crimson Tide (21 carries, 79 yards and no touchdowns as a freshman in 2014). Alabama was one of two teams to hold Fournette under 100 yards last season, as he ran for 31 yards and a touchdown for an average of 1.6 yards per carry (19 carries).
This year, Alabama is holding teams to a nation’s best 2.18 yards per carry. That’s the best mark during Nick Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa.
Fournette is fired up for this game, according to interim coach Ed Orgeron.
“He’s the most motivated guy on the team,” Orgeron said of Fournette during the SEC Coaches Teleconference. “His want-to to have success against Alabama is as high as I’ve seen.”