Pregame analysis of Alabama's home game against LSU:
What: Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 SEC) vs. LSU Tigers (8-0, 4-0)
When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Central time
Rankings: Alabama is No. 1 in the coaches poll, No. 2 in the Associated Press rankings and No. 3 in the all-important College Football Playoff rankings. LSU is first in the AP poll and No. 2 in the other two.
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821), Tuscaloosa
Line: Alabama by 6½
TV/radio: TV: CBS; radio: WHMA-FM 95.5 (Anniston), SiriusXM 191 (Streaming 961)
Three things Alabama must do
1. Unleash the dogs of war in pass rushers Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis.
Much of Alabama’s defensive success in last season's 29-0 win over LSU came courtesy of a relentless pass rush that never allowed quarterback Joe Burrow or the one-dimensional LSU offense to get comfortable.
Former nose guard Quinnen Williams, the eventual No. 3 overall NFL draft pick, feasted in the game with 2½ sacks for 18 yards lost to go along with 10 total tackles. Meanwhile, Jennings and then-senior outside linebacker Christian Miller added a combined 2½ sacks and two more quarterback hurries as Burrow spent much of the night running for his life.
If Alabama is going to have any success defensively against LSU and its new-found aerial attack, it’ll be because its pass rush — in this case Jennings and revitalized redshirt junior Terrell Lewis — gets after him with regularity.
Lewis is currently tied for the SEC lead with six sacks, five of which have come in the last four games, leads the team with nine tackles for loss and is coming off a six-hurry game against Arkansas. Meanwhile, Jennings has been equally as reliable, ranking right behind Lewis in most categories with 48 tackles, 7½ for loss, and four sacks on the season.
2. Lock down the perimeter with big corners Trevon Diggs and Patrick Surtain II.
Alabama’s secondary entered the season as the defense’s most experienced unit with four returning starters — Diggs, Surtain, safety Xavier McKinney and nickelback Shyheim Carter.
Despite that experience, the entire pass defense struggled early in conference play, surrendering an average of 262 passing yards per game against South Carolina, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
But with improved play in the middle, the Tide secondary has limited both Tennessee and Arkansas to an average of just 112 passing yards a game.
Of course, neither of those offenses has the firepower that LSU does with a receiver corps — featuring 6-foot-3 Justin Jefferson, 6-4 Terrace Marshall Jr. and 6-1 Ja’Marr Chase — that rivals Alabama’s own four-deep unit.
Still, these are the matchups that Diggs and Surtain — both of whom stand 6-2 and weigh more than 200 pounds — were recruited to Tuscaloosa for, and both have shown themselves capable of locking down even the best receivers. But the proof is in the pudding and Saturday’s game will be their biggest test to date.
3. Get Najee Harris and the running game going and keep Burrow on the sidelines.
Much like other opponents have tried with Alabama all season, one way to limit an opposing offense is to not let them see the field.
Of course, as Tua Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide attack have proven, that mission’s far easier said than done.
Still, with Tagovailoa — who is a game-time decision but is expected to play — unlikely to be 100-percent healed three weeks out from his tightrope ankle surgery, the ability to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible and establish a strong running game could be dually beneficial.
Harris has proven himself capable of handling a heavier workload, averaging 97.2 rushing yards on 15.4 carries over the last five games, including finding the end zone twice in each of the last two games. Backup tailback Brian Robinson Jr. has also been more effective in recent weeks, averaging 54.75 rushing yards and 5.45 yards per rush over the last four games.
Two of the nation’s Top-Five scoring offenses will face off Saturday, with Alabama ranking second nationally averaging 48.6 points a game and LSU right behind averaging 46.8 for fourth, which has led most prognosticators to predict a rare shootout.
But stingy defense has been a staple of the largely-contested series over the past decade, beginning with the famous 9-6 overtime game in the Tigers’ last victory over the Tide in 2011.
Since then, though, Alabama has dominated, winning the last eight straight with three shutouts, including a lop-sided 29-0 rout last season in Baton Rouge.
Given the production Burrow and the pass-happy LSU offense has already shown this season, even against some stout defenses like Florida and Auburn, another shutout isn’t likely.
Alabama coach Nick Saban seems to have been invincible with 31 straight wins at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and even better with two weeks to prepare for LSU — remember the eight straight wins in the series — that it’s hard to bet against Alabama when it comes to this game.
The Tigers will undoubtedly provide plenty of offensive bite Saturday, and possibly put up more points against Alabama than it has in any season since scoring 41 in Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa (2007), but the turnover-happy Crimson Tide defense will do its part to keep Burrow and company off balance enough for a one-footed Tagovailoa to make enough plays for a narrow victory.
Alabama 35, LSU 31