Previewing three matchups for the Alabama offense in the Crimson Tide's upcoming game at LSU.
Barrett Jones is set make his fifth career start against LSU this week.
Alabama offensive guards 65 Chance Warmack (6'4, 320, Sr.) and 61 Anthony Steen (6'3, 308, rJr.) and center 75 Barrett Jones (6'5, 302, Sr.) vs. LSU defensive tackles 18 Bennie Logan (6'3, 295, rJr.); 77 Josh Downs (6'1, 287, Sr.); 90 Anthony Johnson (6'3, 304, So.); and 9 Ego Ferguson (6'3, 308, rSo.).
From the UA perspective: This matchup begins with the running game, where the interior of the Alabama offensive line will look to get some movement against a talented trio of Tiger tackles.
While Jones, Steen and Warmack makeup arguably college football's top center-guard triumvirate, this will clearly be their biggest challenge to date. In two meetings with LSU a season ago, UA rushed for 96 yards (loss) and 150 yards (win), two of its three lowest rushing performances of the season.
Still, for veterans like Jones and Warmack, going against a formidable front seven will be nothing new. Between them, they've made seven career starts against LSU.
As for Steen, Saturday night will mark his first start in the series, although he has seen action in each of the last three meetings between the teams.
From the LSU perspective: Even with Michael Brockers off to the pros, the Tigers boast the kind of depth up front to which only Alabama can relate. Defensive coordinator John Chavis has the luxury of being able to rotate four tackles against any opponent with little drop off.
In two games against UA a season ago, Logan racked up 11 total tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and blocked a field goal attempt. Downs, Johnson and Ferguson all saw action against the Crimson Tide in 2011, with Downs posting an assisted tackle in LSU's 9-6 win in Tuscaloosa.
Who gets the nod?: Unlike other UA opponents, the Tigers' front seven is confident it can stand in against the Crimson Tide running game without adding numbers to the box. And given the previous success they've had against UA, they've got every reason to feel that way.
LSU's inside guys aren't pluggers, as evidenced by the fact that its top three tackles -- Logan, Downs and Johnson -- have combined to pile up 15 tackles for loss in eight games this season. The Tigers' big people make it difficult for opposing centers and guards to reach middle linebacker Kevin Minter, the SEC's fourth-leading tackler.
With that in mind, you might see more zone runs than powers from UA this week, especially early in the game. Up the field tackles have a tendency to blow up plays that involve pulling.
It will also be on running backs Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon to remain patient and take what's available to them, avoiding the kind of negative plays that stymied drives in last year's first meeting. Edge to UA.
Alabama running backs 42 Eddie Lacy (6'0, 220, rJr.) and 4 TJ Yeldon (6'2, 216, Fr.) vs. LSU middle linebacker 46 Kevin Minter (6'2, 245, rJr.) and weakside linebacker 57 Lamin Barrow (6'2, 232, rJr.) .
From the UA perspective: Spurred by a 144-yard performance at Missouri on Oct. 13, Yeldon has averaged 119 rushing yards per game in his last three outings. The true freshman ranks second among SEC backs in league games only, averaging 90 yards per contest.
Lacy is coming off a 26-yard performance against Mississippi State that saw him average just 2.6 yards per carry. The junior did come up big in the passing game, catching four passes for 51 yards and a touchdown.
Dating back to Mizzou, Yeldon holds the edge on Lacy in rushing yards (357-282) and rushing touchdowns (5-3).
From the LSU perspective: Working behind one of the nation's top tackle tandems, Minter gets a lot of free runs at opposing running backs. The junior, who recorded a career-high 20 tackles in the Tigers' 14-6 loss at Florida last month, works sideline to sideline as well as any linebacker Lacy and Yeldon will see this season (outside of practice).
A core four special teamer his first two years in the program, Barrow has taken over at Will, recording 59 tackles, including five for loss. He's similar to CJ Mosley in that he isn't the biggest backer on the field, but he's very capable in space.
Who gets the nod?: Given Yeldon's productivity the last three weeks, some UA fans want the rep load to shift heavily in the youngster's favor. Keep in mind, though, that Minter (three sacks) and Barrow (four quarterback hurries) are effective blitzers, so don't discount Lacy's experience in that area against LSU.
For Minter and Barrow, their biggest obstacle might be the LSU offense. If the Tigers' O can't author some sustained drives, Lacy and Yeldon should become more and more effective as the game goes along. Even.
Alabama offensive tackles 71 Cyrus Kouandjio (6'6, 311, So.) and 76 DJ Fluker (6'6, 335, rJr.) vs. LSU defensive ends 49 KeKe Mingo (6'5, 240, rJr.); 99 Sam Montgomery (6'5, 260, rJr.) and 89 Lavar Edwards (6'5, 258, rSr.).
From the UA perspective: With an experienced trio filling out the interior of Alabama's offensive line, it seems opponents are bringing more pressure off the edges, which is where MSU linebackers Cameron Lawrence and Benardrick McKinney came from in recording sacks of AJ McCarron last week.
So for Kouandjio and Fluker, this week won't just be about dealing with elite pass rushers. Chavis, like most defensive coordinators, likes to bring zone blitzes from the wide side of the field -- and he likes to use Minter and Barrow when he does it. Recognition will be critical for Kouandjio and Fluker this week.
From the LSU perspective: Between them, Montgomery (four), Mingo (three) and Edwards (3.5) have combined to make 10.5 sacks in eight games.
Mingo leads the Tigers in quarterback hurries with nine. Edwards isn't mentioned in the same breath as Montgomery and Mingo, but he's essentially a third starter.
As a group, you're talking about two fourth-year guys (Mingo and Montgomery) and a fifth-year senior (Edwards) who have played a lot of SEC football.
Who gets the nod?: For Alabama, look for tight end Michael Williams and H-back Kelly Johnson to play roles in this matchup, both in the passing game and in the run game.
While Fluker and Kouandjio will have their hands full on obvious passing downs, they may be able to turn the tables on run downs, especially with Williams doing his thing.
Given the aggressive nature of the LSU defense, it's reasonable to think the Alabama game plan this week will resemble the one we saw January, with the Crimson Tide throwing early to run late against a defense whose sole objective was to stop the run on run downs.
UA hurt the Tigers early in that game, taking advantage of their run-influenced perimeter defenders with boot action from McCarron. While Mingo and Montgomery combined for two tackles for loss in New Orleans, neither had a sack or a quarterback hurry. As for Alexander, his stat line consisted of one assisted tackle.
A similar approach this week probably sounds good to Fluker and Kouandjio, who will be going against a couple of ends who ranked seventh (Mingo) and eighth (Montgomery), respectively, on Mel Kiper, Jr.'s, latest big board for the 2013 NFL Draft. Edge to LSU.