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Alabama-LSU: Road crowd, talented secondary tough challenges for Tigers

Brandon Harris has progressed this season, but he hasn't had a big game away from Baton Rouge yet. Matt Bush/USA TODAY Sports

In an effort to get you better prepared for Saturday night’s primetime matchup of No. 4 Alabama and No. 2 LSU, we’re spending every day this week breaking down a key factor in the game.

Today our writers look at the battle of LSU’s passing game vs. Alabama’s secondary.

David Ching: Because of the way he excelled in LSU’s most recent games, perhaps it’s unfair to judge quarterback Brandon Harris on what he did at the start of this season, much less any time before that.

The sophomore looks to be a budding star but still has limited experience playing on the road -- and the sample size to this point is not exactly cause for optimism. Harris was 9-for-14 for 71 yards in the narrow season-opening win over Mississippi State and 8-for-16 for 157 yards in a win at Syracuse. Those are LSU’s only road games to date. Playing on the road for the first time since Sept. 26, at Alabama, against an opportunistic secondary, will be a huge challenge for Harris and the Tigers’ developing passing game.

Maybe the recipe to beating Alabama is still to complete pass plays down the field -- the Crimson Tide is tied for 76th nationally over the last two seasons in completions of 20-plus yards allowed -- and Harris, Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural are fully capable of hitting on a deep ball or two. Running back Leonard Fournette's presence in the backfield, potentially opening up the play-action passing game, certainly helps the Tigers’ cause, as well. We just haven’t seen enough of the Tigers’ passing game against top-flight defenses to know what to expect on Saturday.

Alex Scarborough:You can go back and look through the archives and you’ll find that I didn’t have much confidence in Alabama’s secondary before the season. Replacing three starters seemed too daunting, especially when you considered how shaky the unit was down the stretch last season.

But I have been proven wrong. Though they’re young and I still worry about the safeties not being physical enough in the run game, I have a hard time finding fault with their ability to stop Harris and the passing game. Cyrus Jones is, in my opinion, the most underrated cornerback in the league. And Marlon Humphrey, who starts opposite him, has come along nicely after redshirting last season.

The glue that has held it all together, however, has been the play of safeties Eddie Jackson and Geno Matias-Smith along with nickelback Minkah Fitzpatrick. They’re a big reason why Alabama already has one more interception than it had all of last season and leads the FBS with four pick-sixes.

If they can continue to create turnovers, I see Alabama winning this battle against LSU. If they’re hurt deep on play-action, things could get dicey.

The final verdict: Alabama’s effectiveness at defending Fournette and the running game will largely determine how much it needs to worry about this aspect of LSU’s offense. That said, the Tide seems to match up well with LSU’s aerial attack. Because of the chaos that a noisy Bryant-Denny Stadium can create for a Tigers team that hasn’t played on the road in six weeks, we give Alabama a slight edge here.