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BCS National Championship Preview: LSU vs. Alabama

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When the BCS Bowl Selections were announced, many fans were outraged that Alabama would be playing LSU for the title, not Oklahoma State. With the Crimson Tide at number two in the BCS and not playing the first weekend in December, many thought Oklahoma State could move up in the standings with a win over Oklahoma in the Bedlam game. The Cowboys won big over the Sooners 44-10, but still could not manage to overtake Bama in the standings, and had to settle on the Fiesta Bowl as the Big 12 Champion, which they won in OT over Stanford 41-38.

Most of the controversy surrounding Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game is due to playing in the same conference as LSU – in the West Division, and having already lost to them. The matchup guarantees that there will be a national champion from the SEC for the sixth consecutive year.

In November’s version of the “Game of the Century”, LSU defeated the Crimson Tide in overtime 9-6 in Tuscaloosa, handing Alabama their only loss of the season. Alabama missed three field goals between two different kickers in the first three quarters, but lead 6-3 entering the fourth. 30 seconds into the final quarter, Drew Alleman drilled a 30-yarder to knot it up at 6, which is what the score stood at for the remainder of regulation. The Tide opened extra-time with the ball and quickly went three-and-out, forcing Nick Saban to rely on Cade Foster, who was 1-for-3 at that point in the game, to kick a game winning 52-yard attempt. Foster missed. On the ensuing LSU possession, RB Michael Ford appeared to have won the game on a 15-yard run, but he stepped out of bounds at the 7. Spencer Ware gained one more yard on the ground to set up a 25-yard kick by Alleman for the win.

Looking at the numbers comparatively it’s hard to believe that LSU has an explosive offensive, but they have a special teams unit fueled by players on one of the best defenses in the country that can put them in good field position whether on punt or kick returns.  In total offense, LSU is ranked 73rd in the FBS with 375.3 yards per game to Alabama’s 433.4 ypg, 30th highest in the nation.  When you break it down further, LSU rushes for 215.15 ypg (17th) while the Tide gain an average of 219.83 ypg, ranked three spots higher at 14th. In the air, the Tigers put up a dismal 160.2 yards (105th) to UA’s 213.6 (71st). In scoring, they are closely matched again with 38.5 points scored on average by LSU (12th) and 36 ppg by Alabama (17th).

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Using a running back-by-committee approach, LSU has two RBs with 700 yards or more on the season with Ford (755 yards, seven TDs) and Ware (700 yards, eight touchdowns), while Alfred Blue has rushed for 539 yards and seven TDs, and Kenny Hilliard (320 yds.) ties Ware for a team-best eight scores on the ground.  In total, the Tigers have rushed for 2797 yards and 35 scores.

The Crimson Tide’s ground attack is more focused, relying mainly on Heisman finalist Trent Richardson. Richardson, the first Doak Walker Award recipient in Alabama history, has amassed 1583 yards (first in the SEC and fourth in the FBS) and 20 TDs. His rushing yardage puts him at the top of the SEC and fourth in the FBS, while his rushing touchdowns lead the conference and are good for sixth best nationally. Behind him, Eddie Lacy has contributed 631 yards and seven scores to the team’s totals: 2638 yards and 33 touchdowns.

Les Miles uses a two-QB system, with Jarred Lee attempting 167 passes for 1306 yards, 14 TDs and three interceptions and Jordan Jefferson with 83 attempts for 684 yards, six touchdowns and a pick. However, Jefferson is a versatile, dual-threat quarterback who has also rushed for 248 yards and three scores on 61 carries. The Bayou Bengals do not have a receiver over with over 1000 yards, but Rueben Randle has been the primary target with 50 receptions for 904 yards and eight touchdowns and Odell Beckham Jr. has caught 36 passes for 437 yards and a pair of scores.

Although Richardson is Alabama’s primary offensive threat, A.J. McCarron has had a solid year at quarterback, throwing for 2400 yards and 16 TDs, both third in the conference and leads the SEC with a completion percentage of 66.7%. Four receivers have caught 20 or more passes; Marquis Maze leads the corps in both receptions (56) and yards (627), while Brad Smelley has caught the most touchdowns (four).

On the opposite side of the ball is where both teams excel, with Alabama at the top of every major defensive category in the FBS: scoring (8.8 points), rushing (74.92 yards), passing (116.3 yards), and total defense (191.3 yards). The Tigers are right behind the Tide is scoring with 10.5 points allowed per game and total defense, holding opponents to 252.1 yards per contest. LSU is ranked in the top six nationally in rushing defense at 85.46 ypg (3rd) and passing with 166.6 yards allowed (6th).

Both schools boast some of the most talented athletes on defense who are on the FBS leader board in several different categories. LSU DL Sam Montgomery is 19th in the nation with 9 sacks and 70th with 13 TFL, while his line mate Barkevious Mingo has 7 sacks (45th) and 13.5 TFL (58th).  The secondary has three of the biggest playmakers in college football with Heisman finalist and Bednarik winner Tyrann Mathieu who is tied for fourth in the country with six forced fumbles, four recovered and two returned for touchdowns; Jim Thorpe Award winner Morris Claiborne, whose six interceptions are sixth most in the nation and is tied for 49th with Tharold Simon with 12 passes defended.

Two of Alabama’s DBs are also tied at 49 with 12 passes defended, Dee Milliner and DeQuan Menzie, and LB Courtney Upshaw is 29th in the nation with 17 tackles for loss and 21st in sacks with 8.5.

Claiborne and Mathieu also handle the return duties for the Tigers, with Claiborne returning 17 kickoffs for 459 and a touchdown, and Mathieu running back 26 punts for 420 yards and two scores.

The county awaits to see if LSU can once again defeat their division foe, or if Alabama can seek revenge for the missed field goals and prove to the nation that not only are they deserving to be there, they are the national champions.

Dory LeBlanc, covers Gator sports for Gators First and BourbonMeyer.com. Not just a college sports enthusiast, Dory is also a fan of NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. Born outside Philly, she moved to Tampa, and now resides in Illinois, giving her a broad perspective on the sporting world. You can follow Dory on twitter @DoryLeBlanc