One of the premier games of the week takes place in Baton Rouge, as the fifth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide invade Tiger Stadium to battle the 12th-ranked LSU Tigers in a critical SEC West Division showdown.
The defending national champions have won two straight games since their lone defeat on the year at South Carolina (35-21). Since the early October setback, Nick Saban's squad has responded with back-to-back wins over both Ole Miss (21-10) and Tennessee (41-10). The rout of the Volunteers in Knoxville on October 23rd moved Alabama to 7-1 on the season, including a 4-1 SEC mark. The Crimson Tide, who were idle this past weekend, are sitting behind undefeated Auburn in the divisional standings, but will get their crack at the other Tigers in the regular-season finale in Tuscaloosa.
Saban believes Alabama controls its own destiny to an extent.
"I think there are a lot other people in the same boat so it's who can take care of their business the best down the road by what you control. What we control is how we play so I think that's the most important thing that we want to be able to focus on and that's why we need everybody's best right now at this time of the year. I think the teams we play in the SEC have won 23 out of 25 games, the teams we have left on this side of it (the schedule) so we're going to play some of the best teams and we need to be playing our best football of the year if we're going to be able to accomplish what we have an opportunity to accomplish."
The Bayou Bengals sport identical records both overall and in-conference. However, Les Miles' Tigers have not been on the field since an October 23rd loss at Auburn (24-17), bringing an end to LSU's perfect season. The Tigers still have SEC affairs with Ole Miss and Arkansas on the docket, so there is still plenty to be decided in the SEC West over the last four weeks of the season.
Alabama holds a 45-23-5 series advantage in one of the biggest rivalries in the SEC and the country for that matter. LSU had won five straight over the Tide prior to Alabama's current two-game win streak, including last year's 24-15 triumph in Tuscaloosa.
The Crimson Tide have rolled over just about everyone with a balanced offensive attack that is generating 440.8 yards per game. The team has the ability to move the chains both on the ground (186.9 ypg) and through the air (253.9 ypg) and features some of the nation's top skill position players.
It certainly doesn't get much better in terms of talent in the backfield than the duo of Heisman winner Mark Ingram (6.4 ypc, eight TDs) and sophomore Trent Richardson (7.0 ypc, five TDs). The production on the ground has taken the pressure off QB Greg McElroy, who has completed an impressive 70.6 percent of his pass attempts, for 1,781 yards and 11 TDs against just three INTs. Julio Jones headlines the receiving corps, with 45 receptions, for 669 yards and three TDs.
Les Miles knows Alabama's backfield is extremely dangerous.
"Alabama has a tremendous offense led by Mark Ingram, a Heisman trophy winner, and a very talented Trent Richardson who is as talented as any tailback in the conference."
The Alabama defense took some huge hits in terms of losing personnel from last season. The numbers however, have remained solid in 2010, with the team allowing a mere 12.5 ppg and just 291.4 yards of total offense. However, big plays up the field haven't come in bunches like 2009, with just 10 sacks in eight games.
Still, there is star power on this unit. Safety Mark Barron (52 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, two INTs) is regarded as one of the nation's best at his position, as is linebacker Dont'a Hightower (42 tackles). Marcell Dareus (19 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks) spearheads the attack up front.
LSU will need to sustain drives in order to keep Alabama's offense off the field, but the team has really struggled on the offensive side of the ball this season and it remains to be seen if this unit has what it takes to keep Alabama in check this weekend. LSU is averaging a modest 25.5 ppg in 2010 and while the rushing game has shown promise (179.1 ypg), the passing game has been non-existent.
Tailback Stevan Ridley has been the top playmaker on offense this year, averaging 4.8 ypc and amassing 723 yards and six TDs. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson has been solid running the ball (281 yards, five TDs), but has been dreadful passing it (.528 completing percentage, two TDs against eight INTs), making way for Jarrett Lee (.688 completion percentage) to share time under center.
LSU's defense is way ahead of the offense in terms of productivity and is regarded as one of the top units in the country. Opponents are averaging just 15.6 ppg this year, while amassing a meager 277.6 yards of total offense. In 93 offensive possessions this year, the opposition has gone three-and-out 31 times.
There are several playmakers on this unit, but none more important than cornerback Patrick Patterson. Regarded as perhaps the best at his position in the country, Patterson doubles as one of the premier return men as well. Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard currently leads the team in tackles (73), with 7.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks. Defensive tackle Drake Nevis (40 tackles, 11.0 TFLs, 5.0 sacks) anchors things along the defensive line.
It will be a madhouse at Tiger Stadium on Saturday. The Tigers will attempt to use the homefield to their advantage, but the Crimson Tide are just the better team. With an extra week to prepare, Nick Saban will find a way to get the job done on the road against Les Miles and LSU.