Alabama (8-0, 5-0) at LSU (7-1, 4-1)
Where: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
TV/Radio: CBS; FM-93.9, AM-920, AM-1400
The series: Alabama leads 52-25-5
The line: Alabama by 13.5
1. LSU’s new quarterback: With talent level between the two teams close to equal for the past several years, Alabama usually wins on the strength of better quarterback play. The Tide has not had to respect LSU’s passing game and has been able to bottle up the Tigers’ talented running game. Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow hasn’t been flashy in his first year as a starter, but he has been efficient. He has thrown 6 TD passes against 3 interceptions but he has made some clutch throws. With Burrow at QB, Alabama won’t be able to sell out against stopping the run like it has in the past.
2. Defense rules? Both teams feature stingy defenses. LSU is third in the SEC in scoring defense (15.1 ppg), while Alabama is fourth (15.9 ppg). LSU needs this storyline to play out to have a chance to win. Alabama has been an explosive first-quarter team, and if the Tide gets rolling LSU probably doesn’t have the firepower to rally.
3. Stopping Tua: It’s easy to see why Tua Tagovailoa is considered a Heisman Trophy favorite. He leads the SEC in pass efficiency and has thrown 25 touchdown passes against 0 interceptions. For LSU to have any chance to win, it must force the talented quarterback to have his first bad game of the season. That will be tough to do because even though Alabama doesn’t have a running back in the top 10 in rushing yards, Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris are more than capable of having breakout games.
4. Enemy territory: This is the first really hostile environment Alabama will have played in this season. The Crimson Tide’s other road games were at Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee — hardly a murderer’s row. And their season opener was a neutral site game against a bad Louisville team. It certainly will be the toughest road test of the season to date, and things tend to get crazy at Tiger Stadium for night games.
LSU QB Joe Burrow vs. Alabama defense
Burrow is going to have to have the game of his life in order for LSU to win. It’s inconceivable that LSU will be able to contain Alabama’s potent offense. That means Burrow will have to try to match the Tide score for score. Don’t overlook Burrow’s ability to run — he has rushed for 250 yards this season and that could be a factor against Alabama’s pass rush. If Burrow plays well, LSU has a chance to win. If he doesn’t, Alabama will get the win.
Tagovailoa hasn’t been under duress often this season, but this is a game in which he can’t afford to have a bad game. He said this week that his gimpy knee is fine, but an issue to watch is how it holds up if he takes some hits. Tagovailoa has been unflappable so far this season and it will be interesting to see how he does in such a hostile stadium.
7 — Number of consecutive wins in the series by Alabama.
12 — Number of games since LSU allowed a first-quarter touchdown. That will be tested by an Alabama team that scores early and often.
35 — Number of touchdowns scored in conference play this season. That’s nine more than Georgia and nearly double every other team in the league.
54.1 — Alabama’s per game scoring average, which leads the nation.
Alabama’s quarterback and receivers will be the difference in this one because they simply are better than what LSU brings to the table. The key will be how Alabama handles any adversity, such as turnovers or if LSU holds the offense in check early in the game. Alabama hasn’t been in a close game since the first quarter against Missouri, so it will be interesting to see how the Tide responds. It likely will be the same answer as always — Alabama will find a way to win.