Week 11 Preview: Alabama at LSU

Alabama (7-1) at LSU (7-2) Nov. 8, 8:00, CBS 

Here’s The Deal: Texas A&M started to look like the new big rival to Alabama – and it still is in several ways – but it’s LSU who earned its stripes over the last several years to come up with some epic showdowns with the Crimson Tide in one of college football’s biggest (relatively) new true rivalries. 

Of course LSU’s Tigers don’t replace Auburn’s on the scale and scope of importance to the Tide fan base, but this is different. If Auburn-Alabama is about 365-day hatred, LSU-Alabama is a bit more about a professional respect. These two have the talent, the tools, and the recent history – helped by the Nick Saban coaching tie-in – with five combined national championships in the last 13 years. While 2011’s two battles took center stage, this has turned into a national must-watch every season, and the two teams almost never disappoint in terms of level of play and work put in by each side to get over this hump. 

There was a reason Saban jumped into AJ McCarron’s arms after the Tide won 38-17 last year, in a game closer than the final score. 

This time around, it’s prove it time for both. Alabama is generally acknowledged as the best team in the country – or at least in the top three, especially in terms of talent – but it hasn’t really proved it yet with a loss to Ole Miss and the best win so far coming in the opener to West Virginia. With Mississippi State and Auburn coming up at home, this is going to be a fun November. 

Meanwhile, LSU is right back in the thick of things after picking off Ole Miss two weeks ago. If you love chaos, then root for LSU, because if the likely favored teams win out, and if LSU wins on the road at Arkansas at Texas A&M, there’s a reasonable shot at the SEC West boasting five 10-2 teams when all is said and done, with all of the losses coming to each other. 

But first, these two have to ball. Alabama has to go into Death Valley and come out alive, and LSU has to prove that its young team is all grown up and matured. 

Why Alabama Might Win: Teams that have to run the ball effectively on Alabama tend to become dead teams with bad things happening. LSU has an efficient passing game, and it’s improving in a lot of ways by the game, but it it’s not running well, it probably has no shot. The Tigers have rushed for 195 yards or more in every game but three, struggling against a Wisconsin defense that’s turning out to be amazing, puttering against Mississippi State in the home loss, and stuttering in the blowout loss to Auburn. That’s it. The O line has been able to get physical with everyone else and move the ball without a problem, including, shockingly, Ole Miss and its NFL defensive front. So how many times this year has Alabama allowed 195 rushing yards? Zero, giving up over 100 yards to Florida, Tennessee, and no one else, and allowing just two scores on the year. By the way, the Tide gave up 296 rushing yards to Auburn last year, and that’s the only time they allowed 195 or more in the last 

Why LSU Might Win: The Tiger secondary has grown up fast and has become absolutely terrific. Part of the reason Bad Bo showed up for Ole Miss in the loss a few weeks ago was because Wallace couldn’t find any open receivers. LSU has allowed six passing touchdowns on the year – two to Mississippi State and two to Auburn in the two losses. It’s not allowing much of anything deep, and it’s making up for most mistakes with picks and big plays. Alabama will certainly run first and run often, but it’s the emergence of the passing game that’s taking things to another level offensively, especially the emergence of Blake Sims as more and more of a threat to make things happen down the field. LSU wants to make this a slugfest, and it has the ability to do it. 

Who To Watch Out For: One very, very good Alabama player has been conspicuously absent from doing much of anything fun in the last few games against LSU – Amari Cooper. An ankle injury was supposed to be the problem in a no-catch 2012 game, but he came back to rip off 136 yards the week after against Texas A&M. While not quite a non-factor last season, he caught just three passes for 46 yards. 

This year, he’s coming off a 224-yard, two touchdown came against Tennessee and has been unstoppable by everyone but Arkansas. It’s not much of a coincidence that Alabama struggled the two times Cooper was held to under 100 yards, coming up with 91 in the loss to Ole Miss and 22 in the 14-13 fight with Arkansas. When Cooper hits 100 yards, Alabama is 6-0 winning all games by double-digits. Oddly enough, last year, Alabama was 11-0 when Cooper was under 100, and 0-2 when he was over. 

What’s Going To Happen: LSU is going to make this a tough battle in Death Valley – for a half. The Tide run defense will be crushing, while the offense will hum on all cylinders with its balance and explosion thanks to a huge game from Blake Sims. Someone will put the words Blake and Sims and Heisman and contender in the same sentence after this game. 

Prediction: Alabama 31 … LSU 17 
Line: Alabama -6.5 o/u: 45.5
Must Watch Factor: 5: Sonic Highways – 1: Anything involving Nik Wallenda … 5