You cannot understate the importance of this weeks game between LSU and Alabama, especially here in the South. Not only is it #1 vs #2, but the winner of this game has gone on to play for the SEC championship 4 out of the last 6 years. No doubt both teams will be ready with both teams coming off of bye weeks. This will be an epic game, and the key match ups will help determine the outcome. This will be the first in a short series on those key match ups. First up, Bama’s rushing attack vs. LSU’s front seven.
Leading the Tide’s rushing attack is Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson. Currently, Richardson is ranked 8th nationally (1st in SEC) in total yards (989), ranked 3rd nationally (1st in SEC) in touchdowns (17), and averages 6.6 yards a carry. The combination of power, speed, and elusiveness that Richardson brings is seldom seen. The first tackler rarely gets him to the ground, and he is always falling forward for that extra yard or two.
Things will not get much easier for the LSU D when Richardson needs a breather. Second string runner Eddie Lacy is a load himself and is ranked 3rd nationally in average yards per carry (8.0). Overall the Bama running game is quite formidable. They have two quality running backs that have the strength to run inside and the quickness to get to the edge.
Also, the big boys in the trenches love clearing the way for whoever is in the backfield. The line is led by three year starter, senior center William Vlachos. Joining him are guards Chance Warmack (Jr) and Anthony Steen (So), and tackles Barrett Jones (Jr) and D.J. Fluker (So). Together they make for one of the nations top run blocking units. Bama is ranked 14th nationally in rushing yards per game with 229.3. That number gets them a #1 ranking in the SEC. Other rushing stats that Alabama ranks first in the SEC are yards (1834), touchdowns (27), and yards per carry (5.8).
Obviously the LSU defense has their work cut out for themselves, but Les Miles knows what he is up against as he himself recruited Trent Richardson out of high school. Oh, and that LSU defense of his is ranked 3rd nationally in rushing defense. LSU runs a 4-3 with undersized but speedy players. It seems to be doing the trick this season, as a unit LSU only allows a 2.5 yard per carry average, good enough for 4th nationally (2nd in SEC) and has only given up 5 rushing touchdowns through 8 games, 6th nationally (2nd in SEC).
LSU’s front four, are constantly substituting to keep players fresh. They use as many as ten D lineman in any game, with minimal drop in talent from 1-10. This strategy should do well against the larger Bama O line. Fresh players with differing styles will keep Bama’s line off-balance and could cause some confusion up front, and you cannot understate the importance of being fresh in the fourth quarter in a game such as this. The front four’s main job will be to penetrate into the backfield and keep Bama’s big lineman off the linebackers so they can flow to holes and stop the ball carrier.
LSU’s linebacking corps is also more of a speed and agility group then most SEC defensive units. Led by senior weak-side (Will) linebacker Ryan Baker, the backers (with help from a secondary that also comes up to stop the run) have done a remarkable job this season. Coming into the year the LB position was the biggest question on the team, but has held its own. The strength of the team is its secondary and it helps free up the linebackers to focus on stopping the run.
There will be many key match ups or games-within-the-game in this one, but this match up will go a long way in proving who will prevail. If Bama’s line can continue to open up holes for Richardson and Lacy then it will be a long day for the LSU front 7, but if they can rise to the challenge then it will be tough for Alabama to emerge the victor. Edge to Alabama.