WHO: (1) Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 SEC) at (4) LSU Tigers (7-1, 4-1 SEC)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
LINE: Alabama by 14 ½
ON THE AIR: TV — CBS. Radio — WXFX-FM 95.1, WDXX-FM 100.1 WTLS-FM 106.5, WTLS-AM 1300
TWITTER: @_AlexByington, @mgmsports
1. Scoring early, often: Alabama’s ability to strike quickly is unrivaled this season, with the Tua Tagovailoa-led Tide offense having scored on all eight of its opening offensive possessions this season, including four times in under a minute. Those are among 31 total scoring drives of 2 minutes or less, 29 of which ended in passing touchdowns including 22 that involved four or fewer plays to reach the end zone. That quick-strike attack has led Alabama to a better-than 31 point per-game advantage in first-half scoring (38.7-7.2 average differential), including outscoring the opposition 165-31 in the first quarter alone this season.
2. Delpit dandy: LSU sophomore safety Grant Delpit has more than outshined his preseason All-SEC third-team selection this season, helping lock down the Tigers defensive backfield by leading the team with 8 ½ tackles for loss and four sacks while also leading the nation with five interceptions. Delpit is coming off his best game this season after a 10-tackle, two-interception, one-sack game against Mississippi State two weeks ago. Delpit could play a big role in whether LSU can slow down Alabama’s explosive offense Saturday.
3. Pressure pack: Despite some turnover among its front seven, Alabama continues to create heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks, including leading the SEC averaging 3.25 sacks per game and is seventh nationally with 26 total sacks on the season. Tide senior defensive end Isaiah Buggs, a Louisiana product, leads the team and is second in the SEC with 8 ½ sacks through the first eight games, while senior outside linebacker Christian Miller is seventh in the conference with 5 ½ sacks so far.
4. Top-10 takedown: For just the third time in program history, LSU has beaten three top-10 teams in the same season — two months in. The upstart Tigers already have victories over then eighth-ranked Miami (33-17) in the opener, along with wins over then-No. 7 Auburn (22-21) and then delivered then-No. 2 Georgia (36-16) its lone loss of the season three weeks ago. The other previous times LSU has beaten three top-10 teams, Alabama was involved, including a second-ranked Tide team in 2011.
Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy vs. LSU CB Greedy Williams
Once billed as the second-coming to fellow South Florida products Calvin Ridley and Amari Cooper, Jeudy has already peppered his own name all along Alabama’s record books midway through his first season as a starter. Eight games in, Jeudy has asserted himself as the Crimson Tide’s go-to receiver with a team-leading 777 yards and 10 touchdowns on 31 catches this season.
An explosive big-play threat, especially early in games with five first-drive touchdown receptions so far this season, Jeudy’s 25.1 yards per reception leads the nation, as does his 4.2 yards per route run while his 9.7 yards after catch average ranks second nationally. But Saturday he’ll face arguably the best lockdown corner in the nation in Williams, a preseason All-American that is already being projected as an early first-round selection in the 2020 NFL draft. On the season, Williams has 23 tackles, four pass breakups and a pair of interceptions for a Tigers defense that leads the nation with 14 interceptions and is sixth nationally in defensive pass efficiency with a 98.3 rating.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
QB, So., 6-1, 218
Amid what has been a season to remember already for Alabama’s Hawaiian gunslinger, Tagovailoa’s ability to efficiently and explosively distribute the ball to a plethora of weapons has been transformative for the once-boring Crimson Tide offense. No more. With eye-popping stats like his 25-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Tagovailoa is already running away with the Heisman Trophy balloting a month before votes are even cast. Among his more sensational statistical prowess includes Tagovailoa’s nearly 75-percent scoring drive average, with 41 of the 61 drives he’s directed this season resulting in touchdowns (67.2 percent) to just five field goals. During those scoring drives, the Crimson Tide offense has converted more than 65 percent (28-for-43) of its third downs while averaging 9.6 yards per play and accounting for 299 of Alabama’s 388 points scored this season. And while Tiger Stadium is sure to be hostile Saturday, especially against LSU’s defensive front seven, Tagovailoa has repeatedly shown he can handle pressure of all kinds, ranking second in the nation among quarterbacks when pressured, completing 46.4 (13-of-28) percent of his passes on 36 pressured dropbacks for 317 yards, six touchdowns and 12 first downs.
BY THE NUMBERS
5: This year’s No. 1 versus 4 game between the two SEC West rivals is the fifth time Tiger Stadium has played host to a top-five matchup, including in 2012 when a top-ranked Tide knocked off No. 5 LSU 21-17, which is one of four losses for LSU against a No. 1 ranked Alabama since 2008.
5.9: Alabama ranks second nationally averaging 5.9 defensive three-and-outs per game this season, totaling 47 through the first eight games of the season in 102 total drives for a 46.1 percent of defensive series ending in a three-and-out by the opposing offense.
12: LSU is fifth nationally and is No. 1 in the SEC with a turnover margin of plus-12, gaining 19 turnovers (14 interceptions and five fumble recoveries) to just seven forced turnovers. Of course, Alabama is right behind them with a plus-11 turnover margin with 17 gained to six lost this season.
25: Total number of touchdowns Tagovailoa has thrown this season — with no interceptions — to rank fourth on the program’s single-season record list, just five behind record-holder AJ McCarron’s 30 passing touchdowns from 2012. McCarron and Blake Sims are also tied for second with 28 scores in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
While LSU enters with one of the nation’s most efficient defenses, the loss of linebacker Devin White for the first half Saturday will be significant, especially against Alabama’s equally as efficient offense, led by uber-efficient Tagovailoa. Whereas the Crimson Tide may have appeared to play somewhat tentative on offense in the past during this series, especially in a supremely hostile road environment, that won’t be the case this year as Tagovailoa and company will likely come out firing early and often in an effort to silence the Tigers’ juiced-up fan base on the Bayou. And with Tagovailoa describing himself as “100 percent” on his injured right knee, there shouldn’t be any hesitation on his part to sling the ball around to his many weapons. And with local Louisiana product DeVonta Smith likely to return this weekend, Alabama’s offense should be locked and loaded for its first legitimate test this season. That said, if the Tide can take a two to three touchdown lead in the first half, don’t be surprised if Saban and company take the foot off the gas somewhat, which in turn could allow LSU to at least fight its way back into contention and force Tagovailoa to make his first fourth-quarter appearance of the season, at which point he’ll probably add another touchdown or two through the air to further cement Alabama’s latest lopsided victory of the season. Alabama 42, LSU 21