Alabama Football Takes on LSU for the National Championship

The Alabama Crimson Tide is less than 24-hours away from playing for their second National Championship in the last three years. Two years ago, the Crimson Tide defeated Texas in Pasadena to finish the season 14-0. This time, Alabama takes on inner-division rival LSU for the National Title at the Louisiana SuperDome in New Orleans. This game is a rematch of LSU’s 9-6 overtime victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa back on November 5th.The last time Alabama played a game in New Orleans, it was a forgetful performance against the undefeated Utah Utes in the Sugar Bowl. The Tide, reeling from a heartbreaking loss in the SEC Championship Game to Florida that ended their hopes for a National Championship, and playing without two starting offensive lineman, were beaten soundly 31-17 by the Utes.

That season, you could argue about the lack of motivation for the Crimson Tide who had hoped to be playing at the Orange Bowl for all the marbles. This time, there is no shortage of motivation. A National Title is on the line when they take the field at the SuperDome against LSU, and Alabama is hungry to make up for their loss to the Tigers two months ago.

Alabama has to run the ball better tomorrow night to win the National Title.

That loss is still fresh on the minds of the players and the fans. A little added motivation was given to this team with all the outcry about whether or not they actually deserved to play for the Title in place of a conference champion like Oklahoma State, especially after the Pokes took care of business in an overtime victory over Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.

But, that kind of talk is over. The game is right around the corner, and like it or not, Alabama and LSU are playing each other for the crystal pigskin. Alabama is hungry. They’ve seen the press clippings, they’ve heard all about how great of a team LSU is. They are ready to take the field and prove to the nation that they are the superior team, and that they should have beat the Bayou Bengals the first time the two played in Tuscaloosa.

The Crimson Tide enter this game with the right mindset. Sure, they are enjoying themselves in New Orleans, but they didn’t come here to party. They didn’t come here to sight-see. It’s a business trip, and they came here with one goal: To right the wrong from November 5th and capture the program’s 14th National Championship.

The time to party will come after Nick Saban and company hoist the crystal football on Monday night.

Now, on to the actual game. I know some are dreading another 9-6 “snooze-fest” as some have called the first meeting. I can almost guarantee you, and so can players on both squads, that the final won’t be 9-6 again. There will be touchdowns. I’m sure of it.

But don’t expect a high scoring game. It’s not going to be the Alamo Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, and maybe not even the Sugar Bowl. It’s going to be a great game between two great teams, but it’s going to be a game where defense takes center stage. Don’t expect a QB to go out there and put up eye-popping numbers.

AJ McCarron of Alabama and Jordan Jefferson of LSU will be called upon to manage the game for their teams. They won’t be asked to go out there and put up a Robert Griffin-like performance. They don’t have that ability, and that’s not what has gotten each team to where they are. Both teams have run based offenses, and rely on their defenses to shut down the other.

But, make no mistake, both of these teams bring in potent offenses capable of scoring a lot of points. Alabama averaged 36 points per game this season, good enough for 17th in the nation. LSU averaged 38.5, good enough for 12th in the nation.

Both teams have offenses with a running game that averages north of 215 yards per game, and a mediocre passing offense. The Crimson Tide rank 71st in the nation in passing offense, the Tigers 105th.

Alabama needs a strong performance from AJ McCarron.

Both teams have the ability for big plays. Alabama has Trent Richardson, who can easily stretch a two-yard game into 50 with one juke-move or simply running over a defender. They also have a big-armed QB who rarely lacks the confidence to throw the ball into tight coverages. AJ McCarron will be asked to throw the ball down the field on occasion on Monday night, and he will need to make a play when called upon.

In the first meeting, LSU played man-to-man coverage for most of the night, stacked the box, and dared Alabama to throw the ball. LSU wasn’t concerned with McCarron’s ability to throw the ball down the field, or for Alabama’s wide receivers to beat their talented players in the secondary like Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu.

Smart money is on LSU having the same defensive gameplan this time around against Alabama. Stack the box to stop Trent Richardson, and dare McCarron to pull the trigger. It’s not all on McCarron either. Alabama’s wide receivers need to find separation against the Tigers secondary, something they couldn’t do in the first game.

Outside of Marquis Maze, no Alabama wide receiver or tight end stepped up in the November meeting. Tide running back Trent Richardson was actually Alabama’s leading receiver with 5 catches for 80 yards out of the backfield. Other than Maze, Darius Hanks was the only other wide receiver who even had a catch. Hanks finished with a pair of catches for 38 yards.

Guys like Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White, and Brandon Gibson need to step up on Monday night. It wasn’t just the wide receivers who struggled either. Alabama tight ends Brad Smelley and Michael Williams were integral parts of the offense all season long. They combined to make 2 catches for 9 yards in the first meeting.

With the likelihood that Alabama wide receivers once again struggle to get separation against the LSU secondary, it becomes even more important for Alabama’s tight ends to get open and make catches. Brad Smelley played the best football of his career in the final two games of the regular season against Georgia Southern and Auburn. In those two games, he combined for 10 catches, 144 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Look for him and Williams both to be a big part of the Tide’s gameplan.

The offensive line really struggled to open up running lanes for Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy the first time around. A part of that can be attributed to Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones playing on one good ankle. He should be fully healthy for this game, so all excuses go out the window.

The Crimson Tide averaged 220 yards per game on the ground this season, but were held to just 96 yards against LSU. Richardson led the way with 89 yards on 23 carries, and he would have eclipsed the 100-yard mark had it not been for negative plays where he lost yardage.

Eddie Lacy had just 19 yards on 5 carries in that game. He was also hobbled with a turf toe injury, and he should be pretty close to 100% tomorrow night. Lacy being 100% only helps the Alabama running game that much more, and takes some of the workload off of Trent Richardson.

Obviously, injuries will play a role in the rematch much like the first game. Alabama is not 100% coming into this game, and I’m sure LSU isn’t either. For the Tide, Mark Barron says he is still not full strength from a rib injury that caused him to sit out a portion of the Iron Bowl. Cornerbacks Dee Milliner and DeQuan Menzie have hamstring issues, but neither should miss the game.

Also, freshman Vinnie Sunseri will once again see action in Alabama’s nickel and dime packages with Will Lowery being out with a torn ACL. It’ll be interesting to see how the young Sunseri handles the pressure of playing on such a big stage. He played fine against Auburn, but that was a completely different game. The lights will be on the brightest at the SuperDome.

Defensively, the main concern for Alabama is the mobility of Jordan Jefferson. Jarrett Lee may be a better passer, but that’s all you have to worry about when you play against him. Lee isn’t going to beat you with his legs.

Jefferson on the other hand, is a dual threat QB. He has the ability to beat you with his arm, and his ability to scramble when pass plays break down. He also ran the option well against the Crimson Tide in the first game, and that is surely been a point of emphasis for Nick Saban and Kirby Smart in game preparation.

With 44 days to prepare for this game, I feel confident with Saban and Smart’s ability to gameplan against the Bayou Bengals offense. In the first game, LSU played conservative, and it was good enough to win the game. We didn’t see any patented Les Miles trickeration, and it was actually his counterpart Nick Saban that rolled the dice on a couple of occasions. I’d bet my house that Miles has something up his sleeve for this game.

How much confidence will the coaching staff have in Cade Foster's ability to make kicks?

And then of course, there is special teams, which has been a big adventure for Alabama this season. The Tide’s struggles in that facet of the game was never more prevalent than against LSU.

In the weeks leading up to this game, Nick Saban has reaffirmed his confidence in both Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley to make the kicks this time around. Saban has also stated his confidence in his offense to put the kickers in better situations.

Blame the kickers all you want, but none of those kicks were chipshots. Even with the confidence from Saban, it’s going to be interesting to see what actually happens during the game tomorrow night. When Alabama has a reasonable fourth down from around the 30-35 yard line, it’s going to be interesting to see if Saban sticks by Cade Foster, or if he elects to let his offense try and convert the fourth down.

I expect Foster to get his shot tomorrow night to make kicks, but I also think Saban will go for a few fourth downs depending on the situation. If it’s a 4th and 15, then it is obviously a no-brainer and he will send out the field goal unit. If it’s 4th and 5 however, don’t be surprised to see the Alabama offense remain on the field.

Alabama punter Cody Mandell should expect to see a good bit of action in the game as well. Surprisingly, Mandell only punted twice in the first game, compared to Brad Wing’s six attempts. That goes to show how many missed opportunities the Alabama offense had. If Saban loses confidence in his kicking game, then we could also see him choose to let Mandell punt and try to pin LSU deep in their own territory.

In all probability, this game is going to come down to who executes the best in the fourth quarter. I think this game is going to come down to a play or two in the game’s final few minutes, and whichever team’s quarterback is able to make a play is going to win the game.

I like Alabama to execute much better in this game, avoid negative plays in LSU territory, and take advantage of the opportunities they have to score. It’s going to be a close game, but look for the Crimson Tide to win the rematch and the National Championship.

Prediction: Alabama 17, LSU 16