Establishing the run has been critical for Alabama’s success under Nick Saban.
Since 2008 Alabama is 57-0 when rushing for at least 140 yards and 12-7 when it doesn’t. However, the Tide average just 121 rushing yards per game when facing LSU under Saban, its lowest average against any SEC opponent.
LSU's defense isn’t up to its typical standards this season, as it has already allowed more rushing yards this season (1,336) than it did in either of the previous two seasons. Still, compared to the competition Alabama has faced thus far, LSU could provide a stiffer test.
Where Alabama Has Been Successful
Alabama has been dominant rushing against SEC opponents this season, leading the conference in yards per game (269) and per carry (6.9).
One reason for its success is that Alabama leads all automatic-qualifying (AQ) schools averaging 2.9 yards after contact per rush. Both T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake average at least 3.4 yards after contact per rush, two of the top three averages among AQ running backs (minimum 60 carries).
As a result, Alabama has been very good at avoiding negative runs this season, particularly of late. In Alabama’s last five games, only 12 percent of its rushes have resulted in zero or negative yards, the lowest percentage among AQ teams in that span.
Alabama’s Weak Schedule
Alabama Rushing By Opponent
Meanwhile, Alabama has feasted on weak competition. The five SEC opponents it has faced are also the five worst run defenses in the conference on a per game basis.
Against those two teams, Alabama backs were hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 27 of its 53 designed rushing attempts.
How LSU matches up
While LSU’s run defense is better than Alabama’s previous SEC opponents, it is still on pace to be the worst run defense in the Les Miles era.
The biggest difference has been its inability to make plays in the backfield.
LSU’s opponents average 2.1 yards before contact this season, a full yard more than last season.
In LSU’s loss to Georgia, the Bulldogs ran for 3.9 yards before contact per designed rush, the most LSU has allowed all season.
Georgia had four separate carries when rushers were not touched until at least 15 yards down the field, more than LSU allowed in its other four SEC games combined.
Alabama dominated the line of scrimmage in last year's meeting, averaging 4.3 yards before contact, the worst average for LSU in the last three seasons.
Sixty three percent of Alabama’s rushes resulted in at least five-yard gains, LSU’s worst percentage allowed in the Les Miles era.
LSU is going to have to turn up its prowess at the line of scrimmage to beat the nation's top team.
LSU has never beaten a top-ranked Alabama team, but had chances to win all three of the prior meetings. The losses were by a combined 13 points and none were decided by more than six points.