Stakes high as Alabama hosts surging LSU (Nov 04, 2017)
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- A month ago, Alabama's game against LSU looked like an easy win for the Crimson Tide.
The Tigers had dropped two out of three contests, with the losses being a blowout defeat to Mississippi State and a baffling home setback to Troy. Since then, the Tigers have ripped off three straight wins, and they still have a chance to claim the Southeastern Conference West title.
So, as usual, the stakes are high when Alabama -- No. 1 in the polls, but No. 2 in the College Football Playoff selection committee rankings -- hosts LSU, which is 19th in the CFB rankings.
Alabama coach Nick Saban has seen improvement from the Tigers over the past few games in SEC play, which includes a win at Florida and a victory over Auburn.
"LSU has gotten better as the season has gone on," Saban said. "Probably the worst thing that happened for all of us in the SEC is when they lost to Troy.
"They've really made a turnaround as a team, which I think speaks volumes of the coaching staff and the job that Ed Orgeron has done there to get the players to re-center, refocus, work on improving. They've been very productive since that time and playing very, very well as a team."
Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) and LSU (6-2, 3-1) will meet Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Dating back to the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, Alabama has won six straight games in the rivalry. LSU coach Ed Orgeron knows the streak is there, but the Tigers aren't thinking about it.
"We focus in on the task at hand," Orgeron said, "but I realize that it's out there, obviously. I realize the pressure to beat Alabama as the head coach here. I realize that."
Alabama enters the matchup leading the SEC in scoring, rushing, total offense, scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense.
The Crimson Tide lead the series 51-25-5, including a 10-0 victory last season in Baton Rouge. Alabama has won eight of the past 10 meetings.
Following the matchup with LSU, Alabama plays at Mississippi State, hosts Mercer and plays at Auburn in the Iron Bowl to close out the season.
"This is obviously the most challenging part of our season," Saban said. "We need everybody's energy. We need everybody's focus and intensity to be able to prepare for the games, this game in particular, because this part of the season really defines who you are and defines you as a team and creates a total identity for the team that you are."
LSU has had opportunities to end Alabama's streak. Last season, the game was scoreless heading into the fourth quarter before the Tigers let Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts escape for a rushing touchdown. Orgeron doesn't want those types of mistakes to happen again.
"The first thing we talk to our team about against this team is execution, doing it right every down," Orgeron said. "When you watch them play, you watch them block, you watch them run, it's all about great athletes being well-coached and execution.
"It's the same for us. If you jump out of gap, just like playing in the NFL, the margin of error is like that. They're going to make a play. You stay in your gap, you're going to make the tackle. You press corner, you get beat, it's a touchdown. You beat him, you may get an interception. That's the way this game goes."
The Crimson Tide has a relentless rushing attack, led by Damien Harris, who is averaging 87.1 yards per game, and Bo Scarbrough, who is at 47.1 yards per game. Hurts is a threat on scrambles and designed runs, averaging 71.5 yards per game on the ground, although he hasn't been asked to do much through the air.
LSU has managed just enough passing success to create some balance on offense. After completing 13 of 24 passes for 206 yards against Auburn, Danny Etling completed 9 of 13 for 200 yards against Ole Miss, but he was sacked three times and under consistent pressure from the Rebels.
Alabama notably held LSU running back Leonard Fournette to 35 yards on 17 carries last season. This season, Tigers running back Derrius Guice is starting to show the form that has made him a likely high first-round pick in the NFL Draft next spring. He has been plagued by a leg injury for most of the season, but he looked fine as he rushed for 276 yards against Ole Miss on Oct. 21.
"This game has turned into a huge rivalry through the years, since I've been here especially, but probably even before that," Saban said. "Since 2007, I think, both teams have been ranked in the Top 20 in each one of these games that we've played. I don't think this one's really any different."