As it has usually been ever since Nick Saban has taken over as the head coach for Alabama, this SEC West matchup between LSU and Alabama has come a long way in deciding who comes out of the division and makes an appearance in the SEC Championship Game.
For the 18th time since 2002, both these two teams will be ranked in the AP Top 25 poll in a matter of 23 games.
Last year featured one of the rivalry’s best games as the LSU Tigers defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide on a game winning two-point conversion from Jayden Daniels to Mason Taylor in order for the Tigers to win an absolute thriller at 33-32. That win gave the Tigers the upper hand in the SEC West and the Bayou Bengals were able to carry that to Atlanta where they played in the SEC Championship Game.
The Tigers are right now near the top of the SEC West with Alabama and Ole Miss but needs a win over Alabama to stay in contention for the division title race.
There is a lot on the line not only for the #14 ranked LSU Tigers (6-2, 4-1), but also for their quarterback Jayden Daniels, who is right now in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race as he is putting up numbers that are mirroring close to the numbers Joe Burrow put up in leading arguably the greatest college football offense of all time.
Right now, the 2023 LSU offense is not too far behind as the Tigers lead the country in scoring offense (47.4), total offense (552.9), passing touchdowns (26), first downs (217), and third down conversions (57.8%). Daniels also leads the nation in total offense with 386.8 yards per game including four 400-yard performances, passing touchdowns, and passing efficiency. Coming into the game, Daniels has completed 163 of 223 passes for 2,573 yards and 25 touchdowns plus 515 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
Winning a pivotal game in the SEC West could help catapult Daniels from a Heisman contender to a Heisman frontrunner, and he also has a chance to be the first starting quarterback since Drew Brees to defeat a Nick Saban coached team (Michigan State) in back-to-back years.
“Well, he killed us last year. He’s a really good player. They execute their offense to perfection.”Alabama HC Nick Saban on Jayden Daniels
The LSU offense is the number one offense in the country for a reason, and that is because Daniels also has a bunch of options to throw the football to including the incredible wide receiver duo of Brian Thomas Jr. and Malik Nabers. Both receivers are two of the best in the entire country as Nabers leads the country in receiving yards with 981 and Thomas leads the nation in receiving touchdowns with 11.
When the Tigers run the football, they can do that too as Logan Diggs is number five in the SEC averaging 87.3 yards per game with 611 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
As lethal as the LSU offense has been this year, they will have arguably their toughest challenge against the Alabama Crimson Tide defense that is one of the best in the SEC. The Crimson Tide defense has only given up 16 points per game which is ranked Top 20 in the country and second in the conference.
“I think it’s the best defense that we’ve seen all year. I think it’s third in the SEC. Look, they’ve always had great defenses under Coach (Nick) Saban, and this is no different. (Dallas) Turner, (Chris) Braswell, (Caleb) Downs. Special teams is outstanding, so all three phases, this will be a great challenge and one that should be an exciting football game.”LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on Alabama’s defense
The outside linebacker duo of Turner and Braswell has combined for 12.5 sacks this season. Both players have the ability to wreck a lot of havoc on the edge while the backend of the defense is one of the highest rated in the country led by the trio of Caleb Downs, Malachi Moore, and Jaylen Key at safety along with Kool Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold at cornerback.
The Crimson Tide special teams has also helped as Will Reichard is on pace to be the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer.
The #8 Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1, 5-0) is trying to make the case of being the best one loss team in the country while also taking another step in trying to lock up the SEC West.
While the team has been led by its defense and special teams, the Crimson Tide offense has been inconsistent, but at the same time, has been very explosive led by first year starting quarterback Jalen Milroe.
The Katy, Texas native has completed 99 of 163 passes for 1,617 yards and 13 touchdowns. Out of the 13 touchdown passes Milroe has hit this season, six of those touchdown passes have been from 40 yards or longer. Like Daniels, Milroe also has the ability to beat defenses with his legs as he has five touchdown runs this season. Since being benched at the beginning of the season for the South Florida game, Milroe has taken the job and ran with it by leading the Crimson Tide to five straight SEC wins.
Like LSU, Alabama has big play weapons as well including Jermaine Burton, who has been nothing, but a big play receiver for the Crimson Tide. The former Georgia Bulldog has averaged over 22 yards per catch with 508 yards and five touchdowns on just 23 catches. Isaiah Bond has been the other big play weapon in the passing game for the Crimson Tide with 23 grabs for 360 yards and three touchdowns.
When the Tide’s offense needs to ground and pound, they look to Jase McClellan, who is a tough back to bring down after breaking through 38 missed tackles this season. The 5’11, 212 pound back from Aledo, Texas has rushed for 569 yards and four touchdowns on 117 carries.
Although the LSU defense has struggled for the majority of the season, the Tigers’ defense is coming off two of its best performances this season against Auburn in a 48-18 victory and against Army in a 62-0 win, but the Tigers will be missing a few key pieces including cornerback Zy Alexander and defensive lineman Mekhi Wingo.
With Alexander being out, LSU will have to rely on some fresh faces at the cornerback position including Ashton Stamps, Jeremiah Hughes, and Javien Toviano. Veteran safeties like Andre Sam, who had two interceptions in the Tigers’ last win against Army, will need to step up. Because of that reason, the Tigers need to take advantage of their deep defensive front. Even without the services of an All-American type player like Mekhi Wingo, LSU has reinforcements in the front seven including Maason Smith, Jordan Jefferson, Bradyn Swinson, Saivion Jones, Paris Shand, Omar Speights, Greg Penn, and most importantly, Harold Perkins Jr.
One of Perkins’ coming out games was against Alabama last year, and his presence needs to show as the Alabama offensive line has struggled this year in protecting Milroe as he has been sacked a whopping 30 times this season.
When the LSU Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide have met, the game not only has a lot on the line, but these games have relatively been down to the wire. Ever since Saban took over as the head coach, 11 of the 17 games have been decided by ten points or less including nine of those games decided by one possession.
Prediction: LSU 41, Alabama 37
The last time the LSU Tigers went into Tuscaloosa and won just so happened to be 2019 when Joe Burrow and the historic offense won a shootout en route to a national championship. The 2023 LSU Tigers offense is looking to accomplish the same thing. This 2023 version of the LSU/Alabama game is going to lean towards more of the 2019 variety of the 46-41 variety rather than the 9-6 defensive slugfest back in 2011.
If it comes down to that, I trust the LSU offense in a shootout despite its defense having to play inexperienced pieces in the backend. Another factor is to see how this game has started. This season, Alabama has been a second half football team and a very good second half team but has tend to have slow starts in the first half. If the LSU offense gets rolling in the first half and Alabama has another slow start, LSU can take advantage of it.
LSU will give up its fair share of explosive plays, but the pass rush will make just enough plays to help the Tigers edge the Tide in another classic game between these two SEC West rivals.