Preview: No. 1 Alabama expects toughest test yet at No. 4 LSU
BATON ROUGE, La. — As quarterback sensation Tua Tagovailoa tries to envision what awaits him and top-ranked Alabama at LSU’s Tiger Stadium, he could use recent history as a guide.
Even during this decade of dominance, the Crimson Tide hasn’t so much thrived as survived at deafening Death Valley, where a crowd exceeding 102,000 is expected for the historical rivals’ 83rd meeting on Saturday night.
T.J. Yeldon’s last-minute touchdown on a screen lifted Alabama to a dramatic, comeback win in 2012. LSU appeared to have the 2014 game in Tiger Stadium locked up, but a personal foul pushed the Tigers back as they neared a game-sealing score. They wound up missing a field goal, and Alabama responded with a tying kick to set up its overtime triumph . In 2016, it took a 21-yard scramble by Jalen Hurts to break a scoreless tie in the fourth quarter.
Odds makers apparently expect the Tide to have it easier this time, listing Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC, No. CFP) as a two-touchdown favorite at No. 4 LSU (7-1, 4-1 SEC, No. 3 CFP).
Tagovailoa has been that good , passing for 2,066 yards and 25 touchdowns without an interception despite taking fewer than 60 percent of Alabama’s offensive snaps.
“He’s quick with the ball. He’s quick with the release. He’s smart,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “He can throw the ball deep. He can run the football. This is a very dangerous football player. I believe he’s the best player in the country.”
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, a graduate transfer from Ohio State, hasn’t been nearly as prolific, but he has largely produced as needed while drawing praise for his poise, toughness, decision-making and leadership. Although Burrow’s passing stats — 1,544 yards and six TDs — rank near the bottom of the SEC, he has demonstrated he can fire or finesse throws into tight windows, throw deep and run.
“Joe has played very, very well,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “People try to stop the run, and they make a lot of explosive plays on people — probably have as good a balance as anybody we’ve played this year.”
Alabama has won every game by 22 or more points. Sometimes much more — with Tagovailoa resting on the sidelines during anticlimactic fourth quarters.
If there is any knock on Alabama, it’s that the Tide hasn’t been tested. No. 22 Texas A&M is the only currently ranked team Alabama has beaten. Three weeks ago, Georgia entered Death Valley unbeaten and ranked second — and lost by 20 .
“You come into Tiger Stadium, it’s loud, you’re going to be under some stress,” said Orgeron, who’d be a hero in his native state if he presides over the end of Alabama’s seven-game winning streak in the series. “Play our defense, you’re going to be under some stress.”
Saban said his players “realize the challenge that they have against a very good LSU team, who had some very impressive wins this year.
“It will be interesting to see how they respond playing a very good team on the road.”
Some other things to now about the Top 25 Alabama-LSU showdown:
Saban said LSU’s Devin White is “as good a linebacker as there is anywhere.”
But during the first half, LSU must endure the absence of their Butkus Award candidate, who was flagged for targeting in the fourth quarter of the Tigers’ last game when he leveled Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. Some analysts questioned the call and LSU protested the partial-game suspension , but to no avail. White ranks third in the SEC in tackles with 76, including seven tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. He also has six quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries.
“That is a big loss for them,” Tagovailoa said.
HURTS & SMITH
The status of Alabama backup quarterback Jalen Hurts, who’s played in every game, is uncertain for the game with a high ankle sprain sustained against Tennessee. Receiver DeVonta Smith missed the Tennessee game with a hamstring injury but has been practicing this week.
LSU leads the nation with 14 interceptions. The Tigers’ secondary — starring Thorpe Award candidates Grant Delpit at safety and Andraez “Greedy” Williams at cornerback — sounds eager to see how it stacks up against Tagovailoa and Co.
“I think we match up to them,” said Delpit, who has five interceptions and four sacks. “We’re playing very well this year and we can affect the quarterback.”
Alabama has six starters and a handful of backups from Louisiana, and linebacker Mack Wilson thinks he knows which one is most fired up. Fellow linebacker Dylan Moses, a Baton Rouge native.
“He’s ready to smash somebody,” Wilson said.
The six include defensive end Isaiah Buggs, defensive back Shyheim Carter, tight end Irv Smith Jr., DeVonta Smith and placekicker Joseph Bulovas. Also, cornerback Saivion Smith played one season at LSU before transferring to a junior college.