Perfection needed for LSU upset of top-ranked Bama

Matt Lowe

November 03, 2018 at 1:48 pm.

Tua Tagovailoa (13) leads the best offense  America. Photo Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Tua Tagovailoa (13) leads the best offense America. Photo Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season began, no one ever could’ve imagined that the Alabama/LSU game would be the premier event in college football during the regular season.

Of course, it was a given that the Crimson Tide (8-0) would be, well, the Crimson Tide. But LSU (7-1) wasn’t that highly thought of in the preseason due to unknowns at quarterback, running back and defensive end — critical factors in the success of a team — so their current stature as one of the nation’s best teams has been somewhat of a surprise.

But here we are, ten weeks in, and I, quite frankly, can’t wait to see what happens in Baton Rouge Saturday night. And to be honest, if LSU, at home, at night, can’t give Bama a game, I’m not sure if any team, with the exception of Clemson or Michigan — due to their defensive capabilities — can hang with this Alabama juggernaut.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide enters the contest armed with the best offense in the school’s history. Led by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who compares favorably to former BYU and San Francisco 49ers great Steve Young, the Crimson leads the country in scoring offense (54.1 ppg.) and third-down conversion percentage (56.2 percent) despite their star signal-caller, who’s the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, not playing a down in the fourth quarter this season.

Tagovailoa’s has the benefit of operating behind the best offensive line in the country and throwing to a special set of pass-catchers, most notably wideouts Jerry Judy, Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith and big-play tight end Irv Smith Jr. But his football acumen and ability to put the ball on the money have been the catalyst in Alabama running roughshod of every opponent it has played so far in the 2018 campaign.

Tagovailoa, a sophomore, is about as instinctive of a player as you will see on the collegiate level. He keeps plays alive when protection breaks down and his leadership ability is off the charts.

Through eight games, Tagovailoa has completed 107 of 152 (70.4 percent) of his passes for 2,066 yards and 25 touchdowns without an interception. He’s also been effective as a runner, rushing for 123 yards and two scores.

Hitting Tagovailoa and making him uncomfortable will be a huge factor for LSU. Keeping the score tight — especially in the first half with All-SEC middle linebacker Devin White serving a suspension for a targeting foul in a win over Mississippi State — and the crowd in the game will also be paramount.

LSU has two special guys in the secondary in corner Greedy Williams and safety Grant Delpit and that unit will have a size advantage over the quicker Alabama receivers.  But the key to this game will be if defensive coordinator Dave Aranda can put pressure on 13 and force him to make a mistake or two. If the Tigers can’t do that, then they have no chance to upset the Crimson Tide. It’s that simple.

LSU’s offense, which is led by gamer Joe Burrow at quarterback, tailback Nick Broussette and an underrated cast of receivers, spearheaded by Dee Anderson (6-6, 229) and Justin Jefferson (6-2, 185), is capable. It’s averaging 30 points a game. And Alabama’s defense isn’t as strong as in year’s past so it will be crucial for the Tigers to move the ball, control the clock and cash in on every, and I mean every, scoring opportunity that’s presented if they expect to have a shot at winning in the fourth quarter.

Cutting to the chase, Ed Orgeron’s bunch will need to play a perfect game to win. But crazy things happen in Baton Rouge — at night — so I’m not ruling out any scenario.

A spot in the SEC Championship Game is on the line. The entire country will be watching. The best quarterback we’ve seen in a while will be in the toughest environment he’s ever played in in his life.

The storylines are endless if LSU can win. It will be the same old same old if Bama rolls. Regardless, this matchup is what college football is all about.

Former LSU head coach Les Miles once stated that Death Valley is “where opponents dreams come to die.”

In a short while, we’ll see if Miles’ idiom comes to fruition.  If it does, LSU will have pulled off one of the greatest wins in the school’s history. If the Tide rolls, it’s business as usual. Something will have to give.

Prediction: Alabama 41, LSU 24