This year’s edition of the LSU-Alabama showdown might be one of the most competitive games in recent history.
Each team has an abundance of talent all over the field and two tailbacks that have been in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race. This game could be too close to call, but which team has the edge? Here’s a positional breakdown:
Both LSU’s Brandon Harris and Alabama’s Jacob Coker have battled through some early blemishes this season. Harris has played his best football as of late and enters Bryant-Denny Stadium with plenty of confidence. He also hasn’t thrown an interception this season.
Coker has not thrown a touchdown pass in his last two games and still has something to prove to the Bama faithful.
Advantage: LSU. Harris has played slightly better than Coker as of late. The guy takes care of the football too, which will be vital in this game.
What else can be said about Leonard Fournette? The sophomore tailback has been the overwhelming Heisman favorite since September and leads the nation in rushing with an average of 193.14 yards per game.
LSU also has some talented depth at tailback. Freshman Derrius Guice runs with an intent to inflict damage and actually out-gained Fournette in LSU’s win over South Carolina. Sophomore Darrel Williams is an impressive runner who coach Les Miles said would play in the NFL some day.
Alabama’s Derrick Henry is a tremendous back as well. Henry runs like a bowling ball with deceptive speed for a 6-foot-3, 242-pound runner. Henry is almost automatic in short situations and already has an impressive 14 touchdowns this season. Senior Kenyan Drake occasionally adds a different style to the running game, but hasn’t gotten in the mix much over Alabama’s last four contests. Drake has 21 attempts for 50 yards during that span.
Advantage: LSU. Fournette is the premier running back in the country. Henry is an excellent runner too, but LSU’s depth cannot be forgotten.
Both teams possess a duo of quality wideouts. Alabama has been led by freshman Calvin Ridley, who has 45 receptions for 525 yards and three touchdowns on the year. Sophomore ArDarius Stewart can also make plays.
LSU’s Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural are the only receivers worth worrying about on LSU. Dural leads LSU with 24 catches, 426 yards and two scores while Dupre has caught 21 passes for 397 yards and five touchdowns.
Advantage: Alabama. Neither team stuns anyone with their wide receiver talent, but Ridley will be the biggest threat on the field.
Alabama’s O.J. Howard is the third-leading receiver for the Crimson Tide. Howard has reeled in 26 catches for 290 yards this season. LSU lost senior tight end Dillon Gordon to an Achilles injury and has not gotten much production out of its backups. Colin Jeter has caught five passes for 40 yards and a touchdown, while junior DeSean Smith has two receptions for 34 yards.
Advantage: Alabama. Howard has more catches than all of LSU’s tight ends combined.
Both units have done an excellent job of paving the way for their aforementioned stud running backs. LSU has been slightly better in the pass blocking department. The Tigers have allowed just eight sacks to the Crimson Tide’s 13 this season.
Advantage: LSU. LSU has a couple of excellent veterans along the offensive line in tackle Jerald Hawkins and center Ethan Pocic. LSU also has two up-and-coming freshmen in Will Clapp and Maea Teuhema.
The Tigers have a deep defensive line that is getting healthy at the right time. The Tigers should have junior defensive tackle Christian LaCouture back after he missed LSU’s last game against Western Kentucky. LSU’s defensive line has been led by defensive end Lewis Neal, who has 32 tackles and seven sacks on the year. Defensive ends Tashawn Bower and Arden Key are also Tigers to watch along the line of scrimmage.
Alabama’s defensive line starts with Jarran Reed. The senior is one of the premier defensive linemen in the country whose 39 tackles are third-most on Alabama’s defense. Junior A’Shawn Robinson is another player to watch along the defensive line and junior Jonathan Allen leads Alabama with six sacks.
Advantage: Push. This was too close to call. Both defensive lines are loaded with talent and have exceptional players in Reed and Neal. This position was dead even.
Both linebacking groups are stout. Linebacker Reggie Ragland will be the best defensive player in this game and leads Alabama with 71 tackles. Fellow linebacker Reuben Foster has also produced with 39 tackles. Linebacker Tim Williams will be an under the radar player to watch, as he has 3.5 sacks.
LSU’s linebacking corps is led by Kendell Beckwith and Deion Jones. The two are tied for the most tackles on the team with 51 takedowns apiece. Jones has been a playmaker and has two interceptions and 2.5 sacks on the season.
Advantage: Alabama. The Tide has the best linebacker in this game, which made the difference in another close call.
Alabama’s defensive backs have broken up 22 passes compared to LSU’s 18 passes defended. Each of Alabama’s 12 interceptions were picked off by a defensive back, while only five of LSU’s seven picks came from a DB.
Bama’s Eddie Jackson and Minkah Fitzpatrick have been incredibly productive with a combined seven interceptions on the season.
LSU hasn’t gotten great play out of its secondary. The Tigers rank 66th in the country in passing defense and have given up a handful of big passing plays throughout the year. LSU’s top cornerback Tre’Davious White should play, but he might not be 100 percent. Dwayne Thomas, Kevin Toliver II and Jamal Adams will be crucial players in LSU’s secondary.
Advantage: Alabama. LSU’s secondary has been hard to trust this season, while Jackson and Fitzpatrick are capable of making game-changing plays.
LSU’s punt coverage team will enter Saturday ranked dead last in the country in yards allowed per return. Alabama’s return teams haven’t been terribly explosive either. If this game comes down to the kickers, LSU will have the advantage. LSU kicker Trent Domingue is a perfect 9-of 9-on field goals, while Bama kicker Adam Griffith has gone 10-of-16 on field goal attempts.
Advantage: Push. Griffith has been as inconsistent and unreliable as LSU’s coverage teams have been. This one’s a wash.
Advantage: Alabama. Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide are 6-3 in nine games against Les Miles and the Tigers. Alabama has won four straight over Miles and the Tigers.