Alabama vs. LSU
8:30 PM ET, January 9, 2012
TheSpread.com Point Spread: LSU +2
Alabama might be the hungriest team in college football following an overtime loss on Nov. 5 to LSU, and Nick Saban’s team knows they are lucky to get a rematch. Many criticized the BCS for giving Alabama the national championship game considering Alabama failed to win both their conference (and could not even win the SEC West division), but regardless of the nation’s feelings, the rematch is set.
The Crimson Tide played LSU to a near stalemate in the initial meeting–a game that embodied the defense-oriented, rough-and-tumble style of the SEC. If not for a few errant field goals, LSU coach Les Miles could have been the one begging for another shot instead of Saban. That stingy defense will be the key for Alabama if they hope to avenge their prior loss.
Bama’s defense ranks No. 1 overall in the country, allowing just under 9 points per contest, and it is the only team this season to hold LSU under 19 points in a game. Led by junior All-American linebacker Dont’a Hightower (81 tackles, Lombardi and Butkus Award finalist), senior linebacker Courtney Upshaw (45 tackles, 8.5 sackes, All-SEC 1st Team) and senior safety Mark Barron (66 tackles, 2 interceptions, unanimous All-American selection), Alabama lives up to their namesake of a heard of elephants. Allowing only 3 field goals in an overtime game against and offense that averages over 38 points per game is no accident. Expect this game to be much like the first in terms of scoring, thanks to the punishing Tide defense.
When Alabama has the ball, expect it to spend most of its time in the hands of their best weapon, Heisman Trophy third-place finisher Trent Richardson. Richardson averaged a staggering 6 yards per carry this season, while racking up 20 touchdowns on the ground (and 3 through the air) to pace the offensive attack. Much like the first game, LSU’s secondary will be looking to force Alabama to run into the teeth by shutting down the downfield passing windows, but Alabama could have some life in its passing game the second time around. Quarterback AJ McCarron, though only a sophomore, looked impressive all season, completing over 66 percent of his passes while tossing 16 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions. Though he looked rattled by LSU’s defensive in the first game between the two (16-29, two interceptions), Saban will have him ready to lead in the championship game.
After rumbling to a 13-0 season, there were seldom any moments when LSU looked human. But the most notable moment came against Alabama. LSU will be looking to dispose of all questions as to their dominance of college football once and for all.
The Tigers as a team are a powerful scoring team, ranking 12th in the nation at over 38 points per game. But not all was due to their offense. They ranked 107th in the country by averaging only 160 yards per game passing. Given Alabama’s propensity for bone-crushing defense, the Tigers will need increased production from the quarterback duo of Jarrett Lee (cleared to play after questions about his academic records) and Jordan Jefferson (completed only 5 of 13 passes in the SEC championship game). Much like Bama, most of LSU’s offense comes from their running backs. With a backfield hosting Michael Ford and Spencer Ware, both turning in 700-yard seasons, present a 1-2 punch that has been nearly impossible for opposing defenses to handle.
But the Tigers defense could be the make or break aspect for LSU. The defense turned in an impressive No. 2 overall rating this season, finishing only behind Alabama in scoring defense. LSU’s secondary was widely regarded as the best in college football, posting 18 interceptions and their corner backs Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu (Heisman finalist) and Morris Claiborne (team leading six interceptions) became the first cornerback duo to be named All-Americans in the same season. Mathieu and Claiborne also contributed heavily on special teams as the nation’s premier punt and kick returners respectively (Mathieu returned 2 punts for touchdowns and Claiborne returned a kickoff for a touchdown). Combine those two with the pass rushing duo of Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, who combine for 17 sacks this season, and its clear to see why LSU stomped the country on their way to 13-0.
While LSU is undefeated, Alabama’s defense will be thirsty for vengeance, as will Trent Richardson. The Tide won’t let the Purple Lightning strike twice, Alabama by 3.