BATON ROUGE, La. — Football without artificial filler comes to Death Valley on Saturday night.
There’s no need to hype LSU’s game against Alabama, which sells itself. The Tigers are looking to snap a five-game losing streak against the Crimson Tide that extends to the 2011 BCS Championship Game — the turning point of the now-extinguished Les Miles Era.
LSU is also looking to beat the nation’s top team at Tiger Stadium for just the second time in the facility’s 92-year history and move ever-so-closer to assuring Ed Orgeron of staying on as the Tigers’ head coach next season.
Here is how the Tigers and Tide match up:
LSU: The only two teams to have any degree of offensive success against Alabama this season, Ole Miss and Arkansas, had 400-yard days from their quarterbacks.
With LSU’s defense behind him, it probably won’t take that level of production from Danny Etling for LSU’s offense to have a chance. But it will take his very best.
Alabama: Freshman Jalen Hurts has hardly looked his age, averaging 262 yards of total offense per game and generally avoiding questionable decisions. Sixty-five of those yards are coming on the ground, so the Tigers must keep him contained.
LSU: Leonard Fournette has been thinking about last year’s 31-yard performance against the Crimson Tide for a long time. As Ole Miss learned in his return from injury, Fournette is dangerous when he has a lot of time to think about things. Perhaps even against the nation’s top run defense.
Alabama: If the defense is totally committed to slowing down Hurts as a run option, it might open chances for Damien Harris, who is averaging 8 yards per carry.
LSU: Like Etling, someone from this group will have to produce the game of their lives. In the past couple of games Malachi Dupre and D.J. Chark have shown that they could possibly be those guys — which probably means we shouldn’t fall asleep and forget about Travin Dural, who has made at least four catches in five different games.
Alabama: The Tigers did an excellent job making Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram a non-factor, but the physically imposing O.J. Howard is a different kind of beast.
One huge X-factor for this game? The health of Calvin Ridley, who is by far Hurts’ favorite target with 44 catches and is a game-time decision.
Edge: Alabama, though without Ridley it’s closer to a push.
LSU: Expect Toby Weathersby to split time with Maea Teuhema at right tackle in his first game back since getting hurt against Mississippi State in Week 3. That was the last time LSU’s original starting five were together. Despite being ravaged by injuries, they’ve remained among the nation’s best O-lines.
Alabama: Individually, Crimson Tide left tackle Cam Robinson is the top offensive line prospect in next year’s NFL draft. And some day true freshman right tackle Jonah Williams might be even better than him. But on the interior, LSU probably has the superior blockers.
Edge: Push — Alabama at tackle, LSU at center and guard.
LSU: The usage of Davon Godchaux will be one of the interesting things to watch in this game. Does Dave Aranda go strength-on-strength and keep him at defensive end, or does he try to cause chaos in the middle by stunting Godchaux or simply lining him up in the middle presnap?
Alabama: Jonathan Allen is picking up Heisman hype as a defensive lineman. That’s unheard of since the days of Ndamukong Suh at Nebraska, and Allen hasn’t even had to stomp on anyone in the process.
Fellow end Dalvin Tomlinson is also versatile with an impressive three pass breakups.
LSU: Few linebacking corps are more enjoyable to watch than Kendell Beckwith, Duke Riley and Arden Key. They’ve combined for 19.5 tackles for loss.
Alabama: By “few,” we mean there is only one linebacking corps in the nation more enjoyable to watch than LSU’s. Reuben Foster, Shaun Hamilton, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams have combined for 33 tackles for loss.
LSU: If the Tigers win this game, it’s probably because one of these guys made a big play, and Jamal Adams is the most likely candidate. Expect to see five defensive backs on the field much of the game. Also expect the Tide to target Dwayne Thomas, who ruffled their feathers last week.
Alabama: Bama’s depth will be tested after the loss of senior strong safety Eddie Jackson to a broken leg. Of course, depth never seems to be an area in which this program is lacking.
LSU: Despite having speedster Donte Jackson back deep, the Tigers rank 13th in the SEC in kickoff return average. That means it might be a challenge to prevent something like this from happening:
Alabama: The Crimson Tide don’t have many weak spots, but field goal kicking sticks out. Alabama is tied for 10th in the league in accuracy, missing one-third of its attempts (5 of 15.)
If LSU’s defense can keep Alabama out of the end zone, there is a possibility the Tide will squander a scoring opportunity or two.
LSU: Ed Orgeron has the Tigers buying all-in to his “One Team, One Heartbeat” mantra. But on Saturday night that one heart is going to be beating just a little faster than usual.
Alabama: Unless Knute Rockne is walking through that door, I don’t suspect I’ll be giving anyone but Nick Saban a checkmark in the coaching category.
LSU doesn’t have to play the perfect game to win, but it does have to force Alabama to play a highly imperfect game.
I would not be surprised if it happens. But I also do not expect it to happen. If both teams play to their full potential, which is the assumption I’m working under, Alabama has the edge.
Hickey’s pick: Alabama 20, LSU 10.