Updated: Nov 1
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
In the game of the year....
.....On a night that will decide the very fate of either team's 2023 campaign.....
In a battle royale that will dictate potential future champions, major award winners, or tilt the overall balance of power within the SEC, will LSU have what it takes to ride key injuries, a slim margin for error & keep their season goals alive???
In our first episode previews (links above in blue or purple), we discussed what kind of effects LSU's slate of injuries and absences may have upon proceedings, who could replace them, and more or less, overviewed what should be a fiery, frenetic 4+ quarters of madness in Tuscaloosa.....two teams battling for the final eternal soul of the SEC West.
Due to LSU's overwhelming offensive enterprise finally being confronted by the best defense they've faced all season, this Saturday is an incoming collision that will force college football fans to the edge of their seats, lipped & gripped, themselves needing a mouth guard for all 60+ minutes....
Much like last season's two point conversion overtime win on the ballsiest call heard 'round the world, the Brian Kelly era has definitely reaffirmed this game as the best on the calendar, year in & year out....aside from a few random blowouts in 2020 and 2018, college football's greatest and most enduring 21st century rivalry continues to create unforgettable moments.
Almost always influencing the SEC Championship Game / College Football Playoff picture, dictating awards season, even deciding the Heisman in 2019 between Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovaiola, while featuring 3 of the last 4 Heisman winners taking part in the game itself (2019, 2020, 2021), as NFL rosters only continue to load up on premier talents from either LSU, Alabama, or in most instances, both....you can have your Michigan vs Ohio State, Red River Rivalry, Iron Bowl, or Georgia vs Florida, whatever rivalry you could name or claim....it doesn't compare in overall stature, player status or the magnitude of LSU vs Alabama....
Any season when LSU and Alabama kick off, the sitting President wants to be there....
Any season when LSU and Alabama kick off, there will be over 100 NFL scouts, if not more, on those sidelines.....
Last year, nobody believed we'd witness what unfolded before our eyes....unless you're a crazy outsider wannabe journalist with a death wish and no brains, but still, as gaudy and badass as that prediction has aged for LSUOdyssey, we didn't pick LSU to win on a Brian Kelly two point conversion in overtime.....
When this game begins, two squads line up ready to maul each other until one stands victorious, dragging their opponent's stained humiliation in their wake.
Now, approaching the first weekend of November 2023, with LSU's historic offense only trailing Burrow's 2019 outfit as the most productive in program history, ranking 1st in total offense, points per game, passing touchdowns, and crucially 3rd down percentage, this Saturday will be incredible viewing due to Alabama's own high rankings on defense.
Is there any way Caleb Downs, Kool-Aid McKinstry or Dallas Turner can halt Jayden Daniels and Mike Denbrock's unstoppable freight train?
It'll be a strength on strength matchup when LSU's history-beckoning offense and Alabama's 17th rated defense square off, though it's an obvious pregame advantage to LSU's juggernaut attack.
As concerned as I am about all facets of this matchup, I would confidently put Denbrock's offense up against any group of players or defensive mind in college football....
Ask any realistic Alabama fan, and they'll tell you holding LSU under 40 would be a massive coup towards victory....anything less and you're in a track meet with QB Jalen Milroe, some skill position talents in running back Jase McClellan, WR Jermaine Burton, and WR Isaiah Bond, and a disjointed offensive line who allow the 4th most sacks of any team in college football at 35 (ranked 126th in America, tied alongside Northwestern, and only Wake Forest, Colorado and Old Dominion giving up more).
It is undeniable that the Tigers are likely worse than their 88th national ranking indicates, producing just 14 sacks through 8 games, giving up a program worst 711 yards to Ole Miss, only cobbling together 40 tackles for loss, allowing 1,894 receiving yards from scrimmage for 12.8 per catch & 16 touchdowns through the air, giving up 4.7 yards per rush, and 6.1 per play....but more damning: Matt House's squad rank dead last when defending inside the red zone, letting opponents score 100% of the time (touchdown or field goal)...
Still, when comparing weakness to weakness, LSU defense vs Alabama offense, I actually like the matchups up front for Pete Jenkins' D-line.....which is why defensive coordinator Matt House must deliver with his front seven selection & rotation.
Then, it's up to Jenkins / Jancek's front seven to disturb & disrupt Alabama's backfield....lest Mekhi Wingo's injury stings even more.
Specifically, LSU need massive performances from Maason Smith, Jordan Jefferson and Bradyn Swinson, all three capable of utilizing their pressures, interior violence, or athleticism to devastating effect.
Even as LSU lose Wingo, their anchor & best defender outside of Harold Perkins, or are forced to utilize freshman debutants at most DB positions, I believe Matt House's defense has a better chance of stopping Milroe & Tommy Rees' Alabama than Saban's defense has of stopping the Daniels / Denbrock freight train.
I feel House's defense, as bad as they've been, possess enough big time players to create enough stops to give Jayden Daniels and Mike Denbrock's offense just enough breathing room to strut out of Tuscaloosa with a statement W.
There's no way Alabama's defense, even playing at their ultimate, could fully shut down both Malik Nabers & Brian Thomas Jr, plus simultaneously bury LSU's running game with Daniels & Diggs.
Could I see a surprising, awake LSU defense replete with extraterrestrial talents (such as Harold Perkins, Maason Smith, Jordan Jefferson, Bradyn Swinson, Whit Weeks, a rising Omar Speights, and the uber-skilled Dashawn Womack) attacking with so much success Steeples' freshman DBs are virtually off the hook for a night?
Or could LSU somehow fail to generate pressure, as they've suffered from many times this season, and suddenly, we look on as JD5 and Milroe both constantly make it rain???
Due to the lack of some key players on LSU's defense being replaced by freshmen, alongside the strength of the Tigers' offensive output, this game has every chance to end up becoming the highest scoring LSU-Alabama meeting ever.
If success for Alabama's defense is predicated on keeping LSU under 40, then LSU's defensive success would be witnessing a turning of the tables inside the red zone, continuing to improve on critical downs as they have over the last few games, as well as preventing explosive plays.
Anything else, including TFLs, sacks and turnovers is a bonus....and one you'd expect JD5 to cash in 98% of the time.
Will JD5 have to play a perfect game in order to deliver victory for the Tigers?
If that's the scenario, LSU will not win.
Give him a few stops and a turnover?
Now that is a recipe for victory.
This is a strange installment of the LSU-Alabama series, as it's actually wildly unpredictable, posing a real threat to make us all look really stupid in forecasting what is, year after year, an unmistakably surprise-filled fixture on the schedule.....
....to quote a fictional Alabama icon, "LSU vs Alabama is like a box of chocolates", and for LSU fans in particular, "you never know what you're gonna get": either the peanut caramel cluster (2022, 2019, 2011) or the coconut-tinged, dark chocolate-encased squid genitals (2012 BCS title game, 2014, 2020, 2018, etc).
This year, there's a different feeling in the air during the buildup to gameday:
Under the leadership of Head Coach Brian Kelly, who's beaten Saban already during his short LSU tenure, fronted by the best QB & most valuable player in America, flanked by the #1 wide receiving duo in the country, driven by a resilient, ultra-talented offensive line & a never-say-die running back stable, while Matt House's defense will be fueled by Butkus candidate & do-it-all defender Harold Perkins...for the first time since 2019, Tiger fans aren't just eagerly awaiting kickoff with less anxiety....we're actually seeing something resembling cautious confidence take hold.
PHASE III ARRIVES TOMORROW! OUR PREDICTIONS: SCORELINE, MVPs, HAPPENINGS, ALL OF IT!!! ONLY @ LSUOdyssey.com
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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