It’s the final day of the NCAA Football Bowl season, and there’s no better way than to wrap it all up than with a rematch between the top two teams in the nation, as the #1-ranked LSU Tigers (13-0, 8-0 SEC) take on the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1, 7-1 SEC) in what should make for a thrilling SEC showdown from the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.
After a gritty, defense-dominated clash between these two teams in Tuscaloosa back in November ended with a 9-6 overtime win for the LSU Tigers, there’s no question that the Crimson Tide enter tonight’s match-up with a serious chip on their shoulder, looking to get even, regain their pride, and establish themselves as the true top team in the SEC. While it’s easier said than done against an LSU team that has one of the strongest, deepest and most talented defensive units in College Football, we should be expecting that in the Superdome on turf, the offense should be at least a little easier to come by for Alabama, especially behind Heisman Trophy runner-up running back Trent Richardson (263 carries, 1583 yards, 20 TDs), and quarterback A.J. McCarron. Here’s what we’re looking for in tonight’s game before heading to one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed for our best picks on tonight’s BCS National Championship game:
For Alabama: Keep the LSU pass defense guessing. The Tigers have two of the nation’s best cornerbacks in Tryann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne, and have the speed and stamina across the entire defense to play man-to-man all night downfield without much trouble. A.J. McCarron (%66.7 completion, 2400 yards, 16 TDs) can’t hope to throw deep bombs with much success against such a quality opponent, but could get a few key opportunities provided that Alabama can shuffle the play book around, and give LSU a lot of different offensive looks. Trent Richardson has shown he’s a capable receiver, and tough to bring down at that (he had 5 catches for 80 yards in the previous meeting between these two teams), so putting the ball in his hands for a couple of screen plays, and utilizing tight end Brad Smelley (10 catches, 144 yards, 3 TDs in the final two games this year) over the middle could help to open up both the straight forward running game, as well as deeper looks to Marquis Maze (56 catches, 627 yards, 1 TD) downfield. A.J. McCarron is a very efficient quarterback, but for him to have success tonight in the passing game, the Tide will have to dial up more short routes to the periphery of the offense in order to spread LSU as thin as possible.
Avoid giving up the big turnover. LSU’s defense thrives on takeaways, pulling down 18 interceptions, and pressures opposing quarterbacks well, recording 37 sacks on the year behind their defensive ends Sam Montgomery (9 sacks) and the amazingly-named Barkevious Mingo (8 sacks). The Tide gave up 2 interceptions in their 9-6 loss back in November, and a clean sheet tonight would likely go a long way towards changing the outcome of this likely low-scoring affair against LSU.
Protect against the run, all of it. The Crimson Tide allowed 148 yards on the ground to LSU last time out, who have a number of good options to work with in the running game, and rely on it for their offensive production. Though the Tide were outstanding in containing Spencer Ware (16 carries for 29 yards), they gave up 6.5 yards/carry to Michael Ford (11 carries, 72 yards), which helped LSU to set up their scoring opportunities. With LSU hedging their bets on the ground game (only throwing for 160 yards/game, and just 91 yards against Alabama last time out), honing in on Ware, Ford, and quarterback Jordan Jefferson and keeping them frustrated will be an essential factor in the game.
For LSU: Keep Trent Richardson out of the endzone. Richardson is a load to deal with both as a runner and a receiver, amassing over 500 yards on the ground in his last three weeks of play, and had a combined 169 yards of offense versus LSU the last time out. For a running back of this caliber, there is inevitably going to be success no matter what coverage or what amount of defense you throw at him, but if the Tigers can keep him off the scoreboard again, it’ll be another big advantage for LSU’s bottom line tonight. Perhaps just as important as keeping him contained in the running game is to keep him from breaking out with the short passing attack. Alabama knows it won’t see much broken coverage against its receivers, but could nit-pick out in the flats with play action. Making sure he doesn’t turn a dink-and-dunk play into a huge game is critical for the LSU defense.
Be the three-headed monster by throwing the ball downfield. Just as Alabama will look to stop the LSU rushing game, the Tigers need to mix up their backfield and get good production from at least one of their three main threats to run. Jordan Jefferson is a good scampering quarterback, but it’s the passing game that could actually help to open up his own running game, as well as that of Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. If LSU just tries to sledge straight ahead against the Tide’s defense (which is allowing 2.5 yards/carry this year, 2nd lowest in the FBS), they are going to find this game awfully frustrating. However if Jefferson can connect with the likes of Rueben Randle (50 catches, 904 yards, 8 TDs) a few times tonight and keep Alabama honest against the pass, one of the three runners in the backfield will find room to maneuver. LSU proved they can put up good yardage on the ground against Alabama, and they’ll need to do it again to win this ballgame tonight.
Betting Lines for #1 LSU vs. #2 Alabama at Intertops Sportsbook
While the game may be set on LSU’s home turf in Louisiana, Alabama travels very well and with redemption in mind the bookmakers at Intertops are giving Alabama at 2.5 point favorite against the spread, and -135 odds on the money line. The LSU Tigers meanwhile are a nice underdog pick at +2.5 points to cover at -105 odds, and are just a slight underdog on the money at +115 odds. Despite the 15 points put up in the first meeting between these two teams this year, and their combined average of just 19 points given up on defense, the over/under stands at 41 points, in expectation that we’ll see plenty more scoring in a faster-paced turf war inside the Superdome.
Our Pick to Win:
In the most anticipated bowl game of the year with the biggest rivalry on the line (these teams are meeting tonight for the 75th time since beginning the series back in 1895), it’s a gamble either way on the betting lines, as its evident from this season’s exploits that both teams are capable of beating the best in the country on any given day, on any given field. While LSU has the confidence of having already beaten Alabama once this year, the Crimson Tide have their sights set on getting the last laugh, and raising the BCS National Championship Trophy on LSU’s home turf. I’m calling for two things to happen tonight; 1). The team that scores the first touchdown wins the football game, and, 2). The team that scores the first touchdown will be LSU. While I expect this to be a thrilling finish, and a great defensive game on both sides, the game will hinge on one big play on either the offense or defense, and with so many huge contributors on the LSU defensive side, I’m banking on the Tide to give up the mistake that costs them the football game, and gives LSU a victory, 24-20.