Previewing three matchups for the Alabama defense in the top-ranked Crimson Tide's upcoming game at LSU.
After a run of spread offenses, Johnson's reps should go up against LSU.
Alabama inside linebackers 32 CJ Mosley (6'3, 232, Jr.); 33 Trey DePriest (6'2, 245, So.) and 35 Nico Johnson (6'3, 245, Sr.) vs. LSU running backs 11 Spencer Ware (5'11, 225, Jr.); 33 Jeremy Hill (6'2, 235, Fr.); 42 Michael Ford (5'10, 216, rJr.) and 27 Kenny Hilliard (6'0, 231, So.).
From the UA perspective: The LSU offense leans heavily on "21" personnel (two backs, one tight end), which means Alabama will likely spend a good bit of time in its base defense Saturday night.
With that in mind, Saturday night should see a spike in Johnson's reps and perhaps a dip in snaps for Mosley, whose primary roles have been in the nickel and dime packages. The big winner in all of this might be DePriest, who has been a starter in both the base and nickel packages.
Unlike last season, when the Tigers would occasionally spread the field with three and four receivers, this LSU offense has utilized tight formations even on third-and-long. Still, it's difficult to envision a scenario where Mosley doesn't play a large role in a game of this magnitude.
From the LSU perspective: If Alfred Blue (knee) returns from injury this week, the Tigers could be as many as five deep at running back for Alabama. With the way Hill has performed in LSU's last two games, it may only need the true freshman.
While Ware continues to be the starter, he ranks fifth on the team in rushing yards (250). Instead, it's been Hill (322 yards, 6.7 ypc, five touchdowns) who has brought the hammer in recent weeks.
In wins over South Carolina and Texas A&M, Hill rushed for 251 yards and three touchdowns, including long, fourth-quarter scores to put each of those games on ice.
Ford (357 yards, 5.9 ypc, three touchdowns) serves as the change-up guy, using his speed to work the perimeter after Ware, who will also take snaps out of the Wildcat formation, and Hill take their turns between tackles. Unlike a year ago, though, the option game with Ford isn't much of a threat.
Hillard (420 yards, six touchdowns) actually leads LSU in rushing but the emergence of Hill has taken a toll on his carries.
Who gets the nod?: Not much mystery surrounding this matchup.
While Alabama's veteran linebackers and defensive linemen know exactly how to fit the LSU run, the Tigers are still going to bring the power game with fullback J.C. Copeland leading the way. And the guess here is that Hill will be doing a lot of the running for LSU.
The option game provided a successful alternative to the Tigers in last season's first meeting between the teams. The second time around, not so much.
So should Alabama expect to see something new from LSU offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa this week? Yep, because what we've seen from the Tigers to date won't be enough. Edge to UA.
From the UA perspective: In keeping with the base defense theme, it will be interesting to see who starts alongside Lester at safety this week.
The last two times the Alabama defense opened games with four defensive backs, Perry got the nod against Tennessee, while Clinton-Dix was the guy at Missouri. There's also the possibility of Vinnie Sunseri, who has worked predominately in the nickel and dime packages, seeing time back there.
As for Lester, he took over the team lead in interceptions after picking off passes each of the past two weeks. Mettenberger hasn't proven to be especially accurate, so Lester, who intercepted a Jarret Lee pass in last year's regular-season meeting, may have an opportunity to extend his interception streak to three games.
From the LSU perspective: The expected upgrade from Lee and Jordan Jefferson hasn't exactly gone according to plan. In completing 57 percent of his passes, Mettenberger ranks 12th among SEC quarterbacks in passing efficiency.
Of his seven touchdown passes this season, only one has come in SEC play. Given those numbers, it should come as no surprise that LSU ranks in the bottom half of the league in third down conversions (10th at 37.7 percent) and red zone offense (ninth at 79.4 percent).
Who gets the nod?: While Mettenberger has attracted most of the heat for LSU's struggles in the passing game, he hasn't benefited from stellar protection and sure-handed receivers, either.
It doesn't help that he's neither mobile nor especially quick getting the ball out. And that's why you'll likely see a continuation of the three-step drop passing game LSU has employed through the first eight games of the season.
At some point, though, Mettenberger will have to take some shots down the field. The Tigers' receiver rotation isn't as dangerous as it was a season ago and even when Odell Beckham, Jr., and Kadron Boone have gotten separation, Mettenberger hasn't always capitalized. Edge to UA.
Alabama outside linebackers 42 Adrian Hubbard (6'6, 248, rSo.) and 47 Xzavier Dickson (6'3, 262, So.) vs. LSU offensive tackles 68 Josh Dworaczyk (6'6, 300, rSr.) and 78 Vidal Alexander (6'6, 350, Fr.) and tight end 88 Chase Clement (6'6, 265, rSr.).
From the UA perspective: Obviously, getting pressure on Mettenberger will be of importance. And with Alabama expected to play more base defense, Dickson and Hubbard will likely be on the field together a good bit.
Considering that neither Dworaczyk nor Alexander opened the season as a starting tackle, Alabama's edge rushers would seem to have the upper hand on passing downs.
Of course, there's also the running game to consider. With Courtney Upshaw and Jerrell Harris no longer a part of the equation, LSU will likely waste little time in testing the perimeter of the Crimson Tide defense.
While Hubbard, Dickson and even Devall should be able to get pressure on Mettenberger, I'll be more interested to see how effective those guys are in setting the edge in the running game.
From the LSU perspective: The Tigers started the season with Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst, a pair of All-SEC candidates, as its first-team tackles.
By week two, Faulk (knee) was done for the season. By week seven, Hurst (personal reasons), who flipped to the left side after Faulk went down, was gone, too.
This week, left tackle Dworaczyk and right tackle Alexander are expected to team for their third straight start as a tandem. Dworaczyk is LSU's version of Alfred McCullough; he's made starts at both guard and tackle during a career that is in its sixth year. Alexander is a talented true freshman who will be a fixture at tackle for the next three years.
Who gets the nod?: Continuity has been an issue for the LSU offensive line, as injuries/defection at left tackle, right tackle and right guard have forced the Tigers to experiment with a handful of combinations.
A revolving door situation up front combined with a first-year starter at quarterback has resulted in 11 more sacks for opponents in 2012 than compared to a season ago.
As for Alabama, keep an eye on Devall, who has worked his way into a legitimate role alongside Hubbard and Dickson. While he's not long on experience, he's made good use of his opportunities to date. Edge to UA.
Also see: TRips: Three matchups for the O