The hype is inescapable.
The Game of the Century Part II is vastly approaching, and while storylines of Tua Tagovailoa’s ankle remains the centerpiece of this No. 1 vs. No. 2 conflict, Tiger fans can expect the Heisman candidate to suit up in Tuscaloosa Saturday. No way he misses the game of a lifetime.
Will he be at full strength? Most likely not. But it’s hard to believe Grant Delpit will be fully healthy after injuring his ankle against Auburn. How will that affect the chess match?
All of these questions add a little more intrigue to a game that promises to be as dramatic (and virtually opposite) as the 2011 clash of undefeated squads. But one question has loomed over the rest — Can LSU actually beat Alabama?
Fans have bought in on LSU this season, and most are convinced this game will be a back-and-forth encounter we talk about for years to come. But not everyone is sold that LSU can actually beat Alabama. There’s a good reason why. Heck, Ric Flair told us why decades ago on closed-circuit television. ‘To be the man, you have to beat the man.”
Ask West Monroe if win streaks matter in rivalry games. Or better yet ask every district opponent in District 2-5A. Oh they matter.
But LSU won’t fall victim of the hype this time. And there are several reasons why.
For starters, Joe Burrow is the Tigers quarterback. Sure, his poise in the pocket, progression through reads and pinpoint accuracy will heavily factor which side enjoys victory, as our friend Les Miles used to say. But above all, he’s a leader, he’s tough as nails and he has the winning edge. He has that extra gear that when the going gets tough he gets tougher. Anybody who watched LSU beat UCF in the Fiesta Bowl last year or witnessed Burrow take a big shot on the sidelines against Auburn two weeks ago know that to be true.
Burrow responds well to adversity. Alabama will land shots on Burrow, but he’ll land a few more with counters.
I suppose that’s the second reason why LSU can win this football game. Look at Alabama defensively. The Crimson Tide are still impressive on that side of the ball, as they’ve held opponents to less than 16 points per game and less than 308 yards per contest this season. But name one game changer on that defensive line. I’ll wait. The Tide undoubtedly had one last year with Quinnen Williams, who dominated LSU and earned himself a Top 3 pick in the NFL draft. Williams logged 3.5 tackles for loss against LSU. The pressure he was able to put on the interior of LSU’s offensive line completely changed the dynamic of last year’s 29-0 loss against the Tide. If you look at the 2019 version of Alabama’s defense, the Crimson Tide are sixth in the conference in tackles for loss. That’s quite a drop from being first in the SEC a season ago.
Not to mention LSU’s had a vast improvement up front, and the Tigers are healthy and deep with Ed Ingram back in the fold. Alabama will have its hands full in the trenches this time around.
One more additional reason why LSU can win is the Tigers run defense. LSU has a Top 3 rushing attack in the SEC, allowing just 98 yards on the ground per contest. Alabama’s is uncharacteristically average in the run game department with 168 rushing yards per contest. If Tua has a bum ankle and can’t extend plays, look for LSU to pin those ears back and get after him to force some punting situations.
And the final reason why LSU can ultimately win this game is the kicking game. It’s no secret. Alabama struggles in this department, and has continued to struggle by converting just 9-of-14 field goals on the season. LSU’s Cade York is 11-of-13 this season, though he’s not exactly brimming with confidence after Ed Orgeron’s criticism before the Auburn game. Still, when the game is on the line and a field goal is required, which team do you trust more?
Now there are things working against LSU’s favor also. Alabama doesn’t turn the ball over and creates havoc with their defense (nation leading +13 in the turnover margin). The Crimson Tide are also at home and are the toughest team to beat in the country when given two weeks to prepare.
This will be tight, but for the first time in a very long time, LSU has numerous ways to win this game. And the Tigers better. This might be the best chance LSU has in a very long time.