Baton Rouge, LA (SportsNetwork.com) - A Top-25 showdown is on tap this weekend in the SEC Western Division, as the fourth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide take on the 14th-ranked LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on Saturday evening.
Nick Saban's Crimson Tide dropped an early October matchup with Ole Miss, but have regained their form with wins in each of the last three games, including a 34-20 road win at Tennessee two weeks ago. Alabama was idle last weekend but at 4-1 in conference play and matchups with Mississippi State and Auburn left on the docket, a division title and spot in the SEC Title Game is very much a reality.
This is never an easy matchup according to Saban.
"These games are traditionally very tough, physical games between two ranked teams, and it is certainly not going to be any different this year."
Les Miles' Tigers are mathematically still alive in the division race and certainly helped themselves with a 10-7 victory over Ole Miss back on Oct. 25. Also idle last week, LSU is 3-2 in the SEC with three games to play.
Alabama holds a 48-25-5 series advantage over LSU and has won three straight and five of the last seven meetings, overall. The Crimson Tide own a 26-9-2 edge in games played in Baton Rouge.
A balanced attack that seems to be peaking is something that the rest of the SEC has to be afraid of. Alabama is getting it done both on the ground (218.6 ypg) and through the air (290.2 ypg), resulting in a hefty 508.9 ypg (11th nationally).
Quarterback Blake Sims has delivered and more than filled the void left by the departure of A.J. McCarron under center. Alabama's signal caller has completed 65.5 percent of his passes, for 2,034 yards, with 15 TDs against just three INTs. He also has five rushing scores to his credit.
The passing attack is so dangerous thanks to the play of All-America candidate Amari Cooper. The 6-foot-1 junior has asserted himself as the nation's best receiver, hauling in 71 balls, for 1,132 yards and nine TDs thus far.
The ground game is fueled by a pair of capable backs in T.J. Yeldon (618 yds, 5.2 ypc, 5 TDs) and Derrick Henry (530 yds, 5.1 ypc, 4 TDs).
The Alabama defense deals with tons of turnover each year, but Saban finds a way to fill the holes and keep his unit near the top of the nation in most categories. This year is no different, as the team gives up just 14.0 ppg (2nd nationally), while allowing a mere 78.0 ypg rushing (2nd nationally), 199.1 ypg passing (28th nationally) and 277.3 ypg total (4th nationally).
Linebackers Reggie Ragland (team-high 56 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 FR, 1 FF), Tre DePriest (41 tackles), 1 FF) and Xzavier Dickson (25 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks) are playmakers in the middle of the defense. Safety Landon Collins (54 tackles, 2 INTs) represents yet another Alabama defensive back with a high NFL draft grade.
Miles is impressed with Alabama's defense, especially Collins.
"Defensively, I don't know that we'll find that we'll play against a team this year that has as quality a defense as this team. They're big, strong and fast and play in the secondary. Just a talented group. Landon Collins, Louisiana native, is having a great year, making plays, and again, very, very talented guy and playing very, very well in the secondary."
LSU likes to enforce its will on opponents with a devastating ground game. The Tigers are averaging 225.7 yards per game rushing on a healthy 4.6 yards per carry. LSU has scored 22 times on the ground this season. The passing game (188.6 ypg) plays off the strong rushing attack.
Freshman Leonard Fournette (657 yds, 5.0 ypc, 7 TDs) and seniors Terrence Magee (418 yds, 6.1 ypc, 3 TDs) and Kenny Hilliard (416 yds, 5.0 ypc, 6 TDs) give LSU a three-pronged attack in the backfield.
Sophomore QB Anthony Jennings has started eight of the team's nine games under center this year and has been rather disappointing as a passer, completing just 50 percent of his throws, for 1,190 yards, with eight TDs against five INTs.
Sophomore WR Travin Dural has been a revelation on the outside, as the 6-2 youngster is averaging an eye-popping 25.0 ypc, with 27 receptions, for 676 yards and seven TDs.
The Tigers have been vulnerable to the run this season, allowing a generous 159.7 yards per game on 4.5 yards per carry. However, the pass defense has been stellar (4th nationally at 158.4 ypg), leading to a mere 15.9 ppg allowed (4th nationally).
Junior linebacker Kwon Alexander leads LSU in tackles with 57 total stops. He has 6.0 TFL to his credit as well as two forced fumbles. Junior defensive end Danielle Hunter (55 tackles) paces the team with 10.0 TFL, with 1.5 sacks, 1 FF and 1 FR. Senior defensive end Jermauria Rasco (42 tackles) leads the team with three sacks.
Saban is wary of LSU's defensive tenacity.
"Their defense has been outstanding, one of the most difficult teams to score on, No. 1 pass efficiency defense in the country," said Saban. "They are always ball-hawking. They create a lot of turnovers. Ball security is an issue when you play against these guys."