It’s the game of the weekend, and just might end up as the game of the year. It’s Alabama-LSU, and while the stakes are always high, don’t they seem just a tiny bit higher this year?
Alabama is the unquestioned No. 1 team in the country – something that hasn’t been the case in either of the past two years, even if they ended up in the playoff – and can’t afford a loss going forward. Meanwhile, LSU is trying to break a five-game losing streak to the Tide that dates back to the 2012 BCS title game, while securing the full-time job for Ed Orgeron.
So what should we expect entering Saturday? Here are five predictions for this year’s Alabama-LSU game.
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Leonard Fournette will have his best-ever game against the Crimson Tide
Granted, the barometer isn’t very high on this one, since Fournette – and more so LSU’s offensive line and run game as a whole – has struggled against ‘Bama the past two years. The Tigers’ star running back was held to 79 yards on 21 carries as a freshman, while tallying just 31 yards on 19 carries during last year’s loss in Tuscaloosa. That was mostly due to Alabama loading the box and forcing anyone other than Fournette to beat it.
Obviously, this isn’t a “Fournette problem” but he still will have the best game of his career against Alabama. Orgeron says his star running back is as healthy as he’s been all season, and let’s not forget that Fournette should be much fresher in 2016 -- after sitting out four of LSU’s first eight games with an ankle injury
When he has been on the field, Fournette has been dynamic as ever, with four 100+ yard rushing games, including a school-record 284 rushing yards when LSU beat Ole Miss last week. This is a different Fournette and a different LSU offense, and Alabama better be prepared. Speaking of which…
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Another LSU skill position player will have to have a career night for the Tigers to win
I’m not saying that this will happen, just that it needs to happen. The good news is there are plenty capable candidates to do it.
With Fournette out for so much time this season, Derrius Guice has proven to be a capable replacement, tallying over 150 yards in three of the four games Fournette hasn’t played in. Even better, the pass game is coming full-circle too, with D.J. Chark (three receiving touchdowns) adding a third big-play threat alongside Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural.
For LSU to have any chance, one of these guys will have to step up with the game of a lifetime.
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Jalen Hurts once again will not look like a true freshman
Hurts hasn’t looked like a true freshman yet this season! This guy has played so far beyond his years it’s laughable, tallying 12 touchdowns through the air, nine on the ground, and over 2,000 yards of total offense. Sure, his five interceptions need to be improved, but considering he’s thrown the ball 204 times, it isn’t terrible.
Although Saturday will be the toughest environment Hurts has played in, don’t expect it to faze him. Because nothing has phased him so far.
We thought Hurts might be bothered by his first road game at Ole Miss. He responded by completing 19 of 31 passes, and adding a career-high 146 yards on the ground. It was the same at Tennessee, where he had a ho-hum 143 passing yards and 132 rushing yards. How about Texas A&M, the No. 4 team in the new poll? No problem, as Hurts completed 15 of 25 passes and added 93 yards on the ground.
If Ole Miss, Tennessee and Texas A&M couldn’t slow this kid down, why should Saturday’s game will be any different?
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It will be the highest-scoring game in recent years
Earlier this week, our FOX Sports partners at Sports Illustrated dropped this fascinating look at how Alabama’s offense has evolved through the years. How Nick Saban realized that to compete with the likes of Ole Miss, Auburn and Texas A&M, he had to move to a more up-tempo, spread-based attack and ditch the pro style football he had been running for years. It led to a complete overhaul of the Crimson Tide offense (and defense) and allowed the Alabama’s newly-found, high-powered offense to catch up to its always spectacular defense.
That doesn’t mean we should expect an Oklahoma-Texas Tech 66-59-esquse shootout like we saw a few weeks ago, but the winning team will likely put up somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 points and around 400 yards of total offense. While it runs completely contrary to who these programs have been – especially on the five-year anniversary of their 9-6 defensive bloodbath – it’s who they are now.
This might not be your dad’s SEC football, but it’s the new reality. Even for the two of the best defensive teams in the sport.
Alabama will still win
Why? Because Alabama always wins.
For all the talk about the offense in this article (and justifiably so), the Crimson Tide still have one of the best defenses in college football (they rank in the top five nationally in both total defense and scoring defense) and are scary good at creating points off other team’s mistakes. So far this season, Alabama has 12 non-offensive touchdowns and at least one in 10 straight games.
They say “to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.” And right now, there’s no reason to think anyone, even LSU, is beating Alabama.