November 11, 2006

BOL Breakdown: Alabama at LSU

The Alabama Crimson Tide (6-4, 2-4 in SEC) returns to the road this week to take on No. 11 LSU (7-2, 3-2) at Tiger Stadium (6:45 p.m. CT/ESPN). The Tigers are coming off a thrilling 28-24 win over Tennessee, while the Crimson Tide will attempt to move past last week's upset loss to Mississippi State.

BOL senior writer Travis Reier takes a look at this week's match-up.

Alabama running game vs. LSU run defense: An already lacking area heads to Baton Rouge with injury questions at the halfback position. The biggest concern is with Jimmy Johns, who had his bell rung while covering a kickoff against Mississippi State last week. Johns was held out of Wednesday's practice after complaining of dizziness, so Tim Castille and Ali Sharrief might be pressed into more carries behind Kenneth Darby. The last time Alabama traveled to Baton Rouge, Darby carried 35 times. Even with Johns questionable, it's doubtful Darby will match that number this time around.

Edge: The Tigers have gone five games without surrendering 100 rushing yards. The last team to do it? Tulane. As for the top three teams on the schedule, Auburn ran for 72 yards against Bo Pelini's defense, Florida for 90 and Tennessee for 62. Edge to LSU.

Key match up: Alabama offensive guards Marlon Davis and Justin Britt vs. LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.

Alabama passing game vs. LSU pass defense: The Tide got another 100-yard receiving game from DJ Hall last week, but little else from the other wide receivers. Of course, going down the field is predicated on having time, something quarterback John Parker Wilson had precious little of in the loss to State. It's hard to imagine this offense in anything other than max protection mode on second- and third-and-long this week. Look for the Tide to protect with eight and go with more two wide receiver routes. Tennessee had some success in getting Jonathan Crompton out on the edge, where he was able to make easy throws to his backs and tight ends.

Edge: Led by free safety LaRon Landry and cornerbacks Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon, the Tigers rank second nationally in pass efficiency defense. Zenon's five interceptions lead the team and nickel back Craig Steltz is second with four. LSU's 28 sacks lead the SEC. Edge to LSU.

Key match up: Alabama offensive tackles Andre Smith and Chris Capps vs. LSU defensive ends Chase Pittman, Tyson Jackson and Ricky Jean-Francois.

Mike Shula's first offensive play call will be: Power to Darby.

Don't be surprised if: Alabama runs the ball more effectively against LSU than it did against MSU.

LSU running game vs. Alabama run defense: The Tigers will spread carries around to at least four different backs -- Jacob Hester, Justin Vincent, Alley Broussard and Keiland Williams, who teamed with Mike Ford at Hargrave Military Academy last fall. In last week's win over Tennessee, Williams was featured to the tune of 17 carries for 53 yards and one touchdown. With his game breaking-speed, 5-foot-5 Trindon Holliday is an excellent change up to the bigger backs. Hester will double at both tailback and fullback.

Edge: After giving up 121 yards to a true freshman last week, Alabama's front seven doesn't catch a break with the SEC's second-ranked rushing attack up next. LSU will also get its backs involved in the passing game via swing passes and screens. Complicating matters for opposing defenses is the running ability of a 6-foot-6, 260-pound quarterback. JaMarcus Russell led the Tigers with 71 rushing yards on seven carries in the Tennessee win. Even.

Key match up: Alabama's linebackers vs. LSU quarterback Russell.

LSU passing game vs. Alabama pass defense: The dilemma confronting Joe Kines this week: Blitz Russell or drop up to eight defenders in coverage? Based on what he did a year ago, look for Kines to switch up pre-snap looks and coverages on a consistent basis. Russell is similar to Erik Ainge in that he sometimes makes mistakes early in the game.

Edge: Tide defensive backs continue to produce turnovers, but they've also given up more big plays than in years past. In going against one of the nation's most talented receiving corps this week, they'll see a little bit of everything, from bubble screens to vertical routes. Alabama must keep Russell from getting into a rhythm with receivers Dwayne Bowe[db], [db]Early Doucet[db] and [db]Craig Davis early in the game. Even

Key match up: Alabama cornerbacks Simeon Castille, [db]Ramzee Robinson and Lionel Mitchell vs. LSU wide receivers Doucet, Bowe and Davis.

LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher's first play call will be: Bubble screen to Doucet.

Don't be surprised if: If LSU rushes for fewer yards against Alabama than did MSU.

Special Teams: After starting the season with cornerback Chevis Jackson back deep on punt returns, the switch was made to Davis three weeks ago. One week later, Davis returned a Fresno State punt 77 yards for a touchdown. Chris Jackson, who picked up a first down by running 18 yards on a fake at Tennessee last week, is averaging 42.4 yards per punt, but currently ranks last in the SEC in net punting. Placekicker Colt David has made 4-of-7 field goal attempts, with a long make of 45 yards. He missed wide left from 52 yards away at UT. Jackson handles kickoffs and has 18 touchbacks to his credit.

Edge: How often has Alabama been forced to settle for field goals? Jamie Christensen has attempted 13 in six games since returning from a groin pull. The Tide is having to live with the ups and downs that come with a first-year punter. P.J. Fitzgerald has excelled at pinning opponents inside their own 20-yard line, but he has struggled to flip field position late in games. With Rashad Johnson expected to miss this week's game due to injury, Hall is expected to join Javier Arenas back deep on kickoff returns. Edge to LSU.

Game prediction: Even with trips to Florida and Tennessee on the schedule, LSU was always the toughest matchup for the Tide. And while some are wondering if Mike Shula will be able to get his team motivated on the heels of last week's loss to State, I'm not. A game like this one doesn't require a pre-game paint-peeling speech to inspire the troops. Emotion won't be the problem this week. The talent differential that exists between the Tide and LSU will be. LSU 26, Alabama 13.

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