By Casey Keefe
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We all know college football’s postseason system is extremely flawed. Everybody wants to see a legitimate playoff tournament to decide what would be a unanimous champion.
Unfortunately we live in a very greedy world. None of the college football bigwigs want a playoff system when they can make as much money as they do now by having 97 bowl games, many of which feature very mediocre teams. But that’s neither here nor there. The bottom line is the while the system is flawed, the title game features, without a doubt, the correct matchup.
A lot of people didn’t want Alabama in this game. I understand the complaints. People felt after losing at home to LSU in the regular season and not even winning their own division there’s no way the Tide deserved a shot at the title. At the end of the day, the purpose of the national championship game (especially in a system like the BCS) is to have the two best teams playing in it. I’ve got news for all you—Alabama would beat Oklahoma State by at least 14 points… The Cowboys do not deserve to be in this game, especially since they lost to Iowa State!
When these two met earlier in the season we were treated to one of the best college football games of all time—and that’s no exaggeration. It was an all-out bloodbath. There’s not a doubt in my mind that game lived up to and even exceeded the hype. Now we’re all lucky enough to see these two match up once again—this time with everything on the line. Folks, you can’t ask for anything more than this.
Looking at this game, there’s a couple of key matchups to keep a close eye on…
1. ‘Bama RBs Trent Richardson & Eddie Lacey vs. LSU front seven:
Richardson (1,583 yards, 3 TD’s) is the straw that stirs the drink for the Tide offense. A few carries here and there for dangerous backup Eddie Lacy (631 yards, 7 TD’s) helps keep Richardson fresh. Both run with a bruising style, never shying away from contact. More times than not they’re the ones dishing out punishment rather than taking it. LSU’s front seven is as tough and physical as it gets. No matter what happens, ‘Bama will stick to the run. That’s their bread and butter. It’ll be a case where LSU knows what’s coming, but can they stop it?
2. LSU DEs Sam Montgomery & Kendrick Adams vs. ‘Bama’s OTs D.J. Fluker & Barrett Jones:
Montgomery and Adams are two of the best and most complete defensive ends in the nation. LSU’s success on defense starts with these two up front. They’ll be going up against two of the top offensive tackles in the land. So much is riding on this matchup in the trenches. If Fluker and Jones hold their ground it’ll allow quarterback AJ McCarron to have time in the pocket which is crucial to his decision making—plus it’ll open up lanes for Richardson and Lacy on the ground. Time of possession will be a big factor in deciding this game and this matchup up front between the ends and tackles will be key.
3. LSU’s four RBs vs. ‘Bama’s front seven:
The Tigers are in a similar position as ‘Bama on the offensive side of the ball. They don’t want to put their quarterback in tough spots. So much of what they hope to accomplish relies on the success of their ground game. LSU’s rush attack runs four backs deep—Michael Ford (755 yards, 7 TD’s), Spencer Ware (700 yards, 8 TD’s), Alfred Blue (539 yards, 7 TD’s) and Kenny Hilliard (320 yards, 8 TD’s). Much like LSU, Alabama’s front seven is stacked with NFL prospects, led by linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw. With the ineptitude of the Tigers’ pass game you can bet the Tide will have 22 eyes on LSU’s running back whenever the ball is snapped.
4. LSU CB Morris Claiborne vs. ‘Bama WR Marquis Maze:
Another reason why these two teams are so similar is because they both have just one legitimate weapon at receiver. In those rare times when AJ McCarron decides to throw, his go-to guy is Marquis Maze (627 yards, 1 TD). Maze’s low production is attributed to ‘Bama’s system, not his skills. There will be a few times in this game when McCarron will be called upon to make a play and we all know who he’ll look to. The only problem for Mr. Maze is he will be matched up with Morris Claiborne who is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. It’s important for Maze to keep his focus and not get frustrated if he’s not looked to early—because sooner or later his number will be called.
5. ‘Bama CB Dre’ Kirkpatrick vs. LSU WR Reuben Randle:
I could copy and paste what I wrote above and just change the teams—that’s how similar this battle is to the one above. Reuben Randle (904 yards, 8 TD’s) is a stud for the Tigers. He’s the only receiver on that offense that can be counted on. He’ll mainly be matched up with the best cornerback in the country, Dre’ Kirkpatrick. Because of the talent involved, this will be maybe the best individual matchup in the entire game.
6. Quarterback Play:
Both AJ McCarron (2,400 yards, 18 Total TD’s, 5 INT’s) and Jordan Jefferson (684 yards, 9 Total TD’s, 1 INT) are far from perfect. Their respective coaches do whatever it takes to not put too much responsibility on their shoulders. But as good as both Alabama and LSU’s run games are, there will be times in this game where the quarterbacks will be called upon to make plays. I have much more faith in McCarron to make smart, sound decisions than Jefferson. As a matter of fact, if I was Les Miles I’d be starting and sticking with Jarrett Lee (1,306 yards, 14 TD’s, 3 INT’s) who is by far and away the better quarterback. It’s disgraceful how bad he’s been treated down the stretch. If Miles is smart, he’ll give a majority of the snaps to Lee.
7. Special Teams:
The battle of field position always plays an enormous role in games as evenly matched and defensive-minded as this one. I’m going to be keeping a close eye on Alabama’s two field goal kickers. I’m sure you remember how Cade Foster (the long man) and Jeremy Shelley (the short man) combined to miss four crucial field goals in the regular meeting. They better be more on their game this time around. It goes without saying they can’t just crap away 12 points like that again and expect to win. Also, Alabama punter Cody Mandell would be wise to keep the ball away from LSU’s all-world punt returner, Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu.
8. Nick Saban vs. Les Miles:
Urban Meyer might disagree, but for my money the two best coaches in the land are Nick Saban and Les Miles. I’m fascinated to see what these two have up their sleeves for this game. After all they’ve both had a month to prepare and know each others’ strengths and weaknesses in and out. Also, keep in mind that these two are never afraid to take risks. You can bet both Saban and Miles have a few fake punt plays ready in their pocket. Saban got outcoached in the first meeting—I’m not so sure that’ll be the case this time around.
This will be a close game. I think that goes without saying. Anybody who thinks different is simply out of their mind. I know it may seem sickeningly cliché and stereotypical, but this game will be won by the team who wins the physical battle in the trenches and is able to force their will on the opponent. Blood will be shed in this game—there’s no doubt about that. Come late fourth quarter, whichever team has more strength, focus and determination will be the one who prevails. In a matchup like this, turnovers will be enormously fatal. You simply cannot take any single possession or yard for granted… Again, I know this is all clichéd football speak, but this is the type of game that all of that type of talk was invented for.
Cutting to the chase, I’m just going to put out there what I truly believe…and that’s that Alabama is winning this game. I predicted the Tide would win the national championship before the season even started—and that’s exactly what I think will end up happening. As good as LSU’s defense is, Alabama is without question the more complete team. The Tigers have gotten off to horrible starts in their last two games against Arkansas and Georgia. Now, I don’t think intensity or sense of urgency will be a problem in this game for LSU (if it is the university deserves to be banished from the earth), but those slow starts were alarming and can’t be ignored.
I’ve never been a huge fan of LSU’s offense. You know how I feel about their quarterback situation. But truth be told, as deep and productive as their running game has been, I fully expect Alabama’s front seven to contain them which will put extra pressure on the pass game. If Miles lets Jefferson take a majority of the Tigers’ snaps he’ll be writing his own death certificate. With the pressure on, he can’t make a play to save his life. I’ve been saying all year long that as good as LSU’s defense has been, Alabama’s has been better. Finally, on college football’s biggest stage, we will all get to see this be the case.
As vital as the Tide defense will be, I think when we all look back we will recognize Alabama’s offensive line as the most important and valuable unit in this game. I think they’ll hold their ground up front and will end up wearing down LSU’s front line come fourth quarter. Trent Richardson will get all the numbers and glory, but it will be made possible largely in part to the offensive line. We all know LSU won’t go down without a fight—and don’t get me wrong, this will be pretty much a field goal game throughout—however, Tiger defenders will be cringing at the thought of Richardson and Lacy barreling down on them come the final few minutes. That’s how worn down they’ll be.
The bottom line is Alabama is the superior team on both offense and defense. You’re going to see the Tide control the line of scrimmage, win the battle of both time and field position and grind this game out. Most of all, you won’t be seeing them make the uncharacteristic mistakes they made in the regular season meeting. This time, with everything on the line, the better team will win.
Prediction: Alabama 20, LSU 16
What’s your prediction for Alabama-LSU? Make your case below…