Three questions for top-ranked Alabama (8-0, 5-0) as it heads into Saturday's meeting (7 p.m. CT/CBS) with No. 5 LSU (7-1, 3-1) in Baton Rouge.
Will LSU take a shot at Dee Milliner and the UA secondary early on Saturday night?
Will the LSU offense be able to keep the home crowd at full throat?
The Tigers are good enough defensively to keep things close for the duration of the game. At some point, though, the LSU offense will need to give the fanbase reason to believe.
And the earlier those in purple and gold feel comfortable about going all in, the better for the home team.
Shouldn't be a problem, right? The game is being played at night in Death Valley, where the Tigers find themselves in the midst of a school-record 22-game winning streak. We're talking about the venue Les Miles refers to as "the place where opponents' dreams go to die" here.
One problem: Alabama seems to thrive on the adversity that playing on the road presents. In the four games the Crimson Tide has played away from Bryant-Denny Stadium this season, its has outscored its opponents 56-3 in the opening quarter.
That's why no one will be surprised if LSU offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa borrows from Charlie Weiss' "kitchen sink" Saturday night.
Oh, you remember the Florida game from a year ago.
Opening snap of the game, tight formation, max protection, one on one coverage on the outside, John Brantley to Andre Debose.
And the Swamp went nuts.
While it wasn't enough for the Gators, it was the kind of start LSU would be willing to take its chances with this week. Especially for an offense that produced nine points in eight quarters against UA a season ago.
In the end, LSU fans, are no different than fans at other places. When their team plays well, they're fully engaged. When their team doesn't, they're not.
These days, the mood in Tiger Stadium is dictated by the offense. And while a scoring bomb on the game's opening play would be nice, the home crowd would settle for a few first downs on their team's opening possession.
For the LSU offense, if a few good things don't happen early, things could get ugly late.
Can Zach Mettenberger play AJ McCarron even?
As his team's biggest question mark, Mettenberger finds himself in the same position McCarron was in a year ago, the difference being that Mettenberger heads into his first start in the series shouldering a larger burden than McCarron did in last season's first meeting between the teams.
Thought to be the missing link for a team that came up a quarterback short a season ago, it's almost as if Mettenberger will be looking to win two games Saturday night: the one he'll play in and the one he had no role in.
See, the smoldering angst of Tiger nation is only partially related to the disjointed play they've seen from Mettenberger and his mates this season. More than anything, it goes back to that January night in New Orleans, when the LSU offense was reduced to ashes in its own backyard.
While McCarron enters the game as the most efficient passer in FBS, Mettenberger checks in at No. 77. And the numbers only get worse for LSU when looking at SEC play. In four conference games,Mettenberger has completed less than 50 percent of his passes while throwing one touchdown pass and two interceptions.
Mettenberger doesn't need to be Rohan Davey 2001. Heck, a performance similar to the one McCarron had in last year's first meeting would be acceptable at this point.
More than anything, he needs to make enough throws to give the running game room to breathe because the expectation is that McCarron will.
Can Alabama continue to stay clean?
In making the radio rounds, it's the one question I'm asked the most: Might this version of the Crimson Tide be better than its predecessor?
I'm not prepared to go there, but I do think it's fair to say that this team has been more efficient and opportunistic. When an opponent has swung and missed, UA has responded in devastating fashion, capitalizing on the other guy's missteps unlike any Crimson Tide squad we've seen.
Winning big on the road comes down to a few things.
It starts with defense and special teams that have produced 13 turnovers in four games played outside of Tuscaloosa.
It extends to an offense that seldom turns the ball over and knows what to do when opportunity presents itself, making good on 22 of its 23 red zone opportunities (including 18 touchdowns).
The formula doesn't have the wow factor of the run and shoot. It's more like blunt force trauma, only performed with the precision of a surgeon.
And it's a style LSU has no problem matching up with physically. The question is, will the Tigers be able to take care of the perceived little things that seem to come so easily to the Crimson Tide?
They do, after all, add up.
Prediction: Alabama 20, LSU 9.
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