SPORTS

Tigers set for showdown in Tuscaloosa

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Fullback J.C. Copeland will be back as a crucial piece in the Tigers' running game. Photo by LSUsports.net.

It's early November. That only means one thing for LSU: it's time for their yearly slugfest with Alabama.

And even though there are no national championship aspirations on the line for the Tigers, it's still a must-win.

With a loss, LSU will be assured a three-loss regular season. That would be their most losses since 2009.

A third loss will also intensely complicate the Tigers' quest for a 10-win season--which has become a standard in Baton Rouge. Ever since 2000, LSU has had nine years end with at least 10 victories on the schedule.

As for Alabama, it's very familiar territory. The Tigers are a roadblock they must get past if they want to hoist the crystal ball for the third straight year--a feat no one has been able to accomplish in college football's modern era.

It's no secret, this Crimson Tide squad isn't as talented or well-rounded as their past two championship teams. Their offensive line is young and learning on the fly, and much of the same can be said about their secondary.

However, they keep getting better with every game. Their defense was widely-criticized after giving up 628 yards and 42 points to Texas A&M but in the six games since then, they've given up a grand total of 26 points. That ads up to just four points per contest.

The Tide "D" is currently No. 1 in points allowed, No. 4 in total defense, No. 7 against the run and No. 8 against the pass.

This will be the best offense they've faced since the Aggies back in September.

Although two of the Tigers' last three efforts saw underwelming offensive efforts, they're still averaging 40 points a game.

The combo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry has combined for 106 catches for 1,891 yards and 16 touchdowns

And on the ground, LSU is stronger than ever. They are averaging 200 yards a contest, and Jeremy Hill has run for 922 yards and 12 scores despite not playing the first game against TCU and only carrying the ball six times against UAB.

That run game should be helped greatly by J.C. Copeland being re-inserted back into the starting lineup after missing the last two games with a concussion. The battering ram of a lead-blocker's absence was felt the greatest in the Tigers' 27-24 upset loss to Ole Miss when LSU ran for just 114 yards, and Hill was held to just 64 yards on 16 carries.

But for LSU to score on the steadily-improving Alabama defense, they're going to have to get a great game from Zach Mettenberger. Ever since the Mississippi State game, he has been in a funk.

After that 59-26 win, he bolstered a 68 percent completion percentage, was averaging 290 yards a game and had 15 touchdowns to just two interceptions.

Ever since then, his completion percentage has dropped to just 59 percent, his yards have dropped to 251 a game and he has four touchdowns and five interceptions.

The Tigers will need him to play like he did in last year's game, when he broke out with a 24-35 effort for 298 yards and a score.

But the game very well could be decided by the LSU defense. The young and inexperienced unit has had consistent struggles throughout the season. In five SEC games, they're giving up 434 yards and 25 points per outing.

They'll need their best to stop an Alabama attack that has gotten stronger and stronger every week. In the last four games, they've averaged 48 points.

AJ McCarron has been hitting 69 percent of his passes and has thrown 16 touchdowns opposed to just three interceptions.

He has a trio of lethal receivers to throw to in Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood and DeAndrew White

But the Tide poses the greatest threat to the Tigers on the ground. It's there that they average 210 yards a game with the one-two punch of T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake. The tandem has combined for 1,220 yards and 17 touchdowns.

The Tigers only rank No. 50 against the run--giving up 148 yards a game.

One thing LSU can hang their hat on is the fact that they've beaten Alabama in Tuscaloosa in four of their last five trips. That includes a 9-6 overtime win in 2011's "Game of the Century."

For the third straight year, the two teams will clash in CBS' only primetime game of the season.