Don’t be surprised if we get negative scores on Saturday, when two of the top defensive teams in the nation in the LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide square with the eyes of the nation on them.
The SEC has always been known for its gritty, hard-nosed brand of football predicated on knocking opposing offenses senseless. Still, even with that in mind, what Alabama and LSU have done this season has been pretty astonishing.
Currently, Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide is at the top of the national statistical rankings as it relates to pass efficiency, rush defense, total defense and scoring defense. They’ve given up a mere 359 yards on the ground this year and only six offensive touchdowns. Yet, despite all that, it’s difficult to give Alabama’s defense the nod outright in this outing because there’s a very easy case to be made that they haven’t faced the degree of competition that the Tigers have.
With the heads of the Oregon Ducks and West Virginia Mountaineers offenses hanging on its wall, LSU’s defense has successfully proven to one and all that they can play against and, ultimately beat, some of the most prominent groups in the nation. The offenses that the Tigers have faced off against have average rankings of 66th in scoring offense and 75th in total offense, nationally. On the flip side, the Crimson Tide defense has played units with average rankings of 87th in scoring offense and 95th in total offense this year.
So, who will ultimately emerge victorious? Tyrann Mathieu’s LSU squad or the Alabama defense spearheaded by Dont’a Hightower? The two stars may disagree on the final outcome – but they both acknowledge which unit will be most crucial.
"It's definitely going to come down to who's going to break whose will, whether we're going to break LSU's offense's will or whether they're going to break our offense's will," Hightower said. "It's definitely going to be a game of defenses."
In a somewhat novel approach, other players have taken to doing something totally out of the realm of accepted pre-game protocol these showdowns – admitting they respect the opposition.
"I don't think we've played a defense this talented across the board," LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said. "They've got a lot of great players. The only defense that really matches up with them talent-wise is probably our defense, so it's going to be a battle."
And Alabama’s Trent Richardson didn’t hesitate to return the favor.
“It reminds me a lot of our defense. They love to hit people in the mouth, they don't back down from anybody. They don't do a lot of missed coverages, and they love to come at you. Their defensive line is tremendous up front.
"I've seen a couple of times they just grab people and almost clothesline them, for real," he said.
So which brand of football (read: defense) will ultimately win out? Could LSU’s speed and athleticism prove to be too much, or will Alabama’s brute strength and power overwhelm its top ranked opponents?
Only time will tell.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. eastern time, Saturday.