The stakes in the SEC and postseason races will be huge when Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) visits LSU (7-2, 3-2) on Saturday.
Today we’ll compare how the two teams stack up at each position group on offense and defense.
It’s probably time to stop waiting on Blake Sims' downfall.
Alabama brought in another QB to take his job, but that didn’t work. The SEC was then supposed to eat him alive, but that didn’t work either.
Sims might not look like your typical pocket passer, but the senior has gotten the job done with 2,034 yards and 15 touchdowns through the air. He’s completing 65.5 percent of his passes and has thrown just three interceptions.
Just when we thought we found a weakness with him struggling on the road against Ole Miss and Arkansas, he went to Tennessee and threw for two touchdowns, no interceptions and just shy of 300 yards.
Player to watch: Blake Sims
Possibly the most important player on the field Saturday will be LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings. Not because he will throw it around like a Big 12 quarterback -- Jennings has averaged just 16.8 pass attempts in his eight starts -- but because he’ll have to make it count when he does drop back to pass.
It’s no secret that LSU will lean heavily on the run. The Tigers have kept the ball on the ground 70 percent of the time this season, and they will almost certainly be a run-first team on Saturday.
But when Alabama has been vulnerable on defense, it has been in pass coverage. Jennings needs to be able to make the Crimson Tide at least respect the pass.
Player to watch: Anthony Jennings
With no Kenyan Drake, Alabama’s running game is slightly less dynamic than it was at the beginning of the season, but it’s still quite potent as Yeldon and Henry each average more than 5 yards per carry.
Look for H-back Jalston Fowler to be mixed in at running back some and don’t discount Sims' effect on the running game from the quarterback position. He might not escape the pocket much these days, but he did play running back and receiver for Alabama once upon a time.
Player to watch: Derrick Henry
All eyes will be on freshman Leonard Fournette, who has broken the 100-yard mark twice during the Tigers’ three-game winning streak.
With 671 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, Fournette is already the lead figure in the LSU backfield, but its true strength is its depth.
Terrence Magee has been outstanding lately, raising his yards-per-carry average to 6.1 thanks to a number of long runs during the winning streak. And Kenny Hilliard probably doesn’t get enough credit for his impact on the 10-7 win over Ole Miss. Hilliard’s tough running was one of the keys as the Tigers drove 95 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Player to watch: Leonard Fournette
Wide receiver/tight end
Amari Cooper can’t do it all on his own. Or maybe he can.
The junior wideout has been among the best receivers in college football, and he’s been the absolute focal point of Alabama’s passing game. With 96 targets, he’s accounted for 40 percent of the Tide’s pass attempts. As Nick Saban said, “Should you play to your strengths or not?”
But Alabama needs more than No. 9. It needs Christion Jones, DeAndrew White and Chris Black. It needs O.J. Howard and Brian Vogler at tight end. Those guys are capable of making plays, and against LSU they’ll likely have to do so.
Player to watch: Christion Jones
Sophomore Travin Dural exploded out of the gate with 100-yard outings in three of the first four games, but nobody at LSU has done much in the passing game lately. It remains to be seen whether they can get away with being so one-dimensional against a defense as good as Alabama’s.
During LSU’s three-game winning streak, wideouts Malachi Dupre and John Diarse have combined for one catch for 8 yards. Dural (5-102) and Trey Quinn (5-73) haven’t done much more, but LSU has worked in several throws to running backs and tight ends lately.
The target of the passes is irrelevant, though. It seems unlikely that the Tigers will be effective on offense if they fail to make at least a little something happen through the air.
Player to watch: Travin Dural
Cam Robinson might be available. That’s an awfully lot to ask, though, considering the starting left tackle was said to be out 3-4 weeks after tweaking his ankle against Tennessee two weeks ago. But Saban is playing it close to the vest and not ruling out the talented true freshman.
The good news for Alabama is that Ryan Kelly appears to be holding up well. After sustaining an injury against Ole Miss and missing a few weeks recovering, the starting center played all game against Tennessee and hasn’t been limited since.
Player to watch: Grant Hill
This group was a disappointment early in the fall, but they’ve picked it up considerably once new position coach Jeff Grimes got center Elliott Porter back from an early suspension and settled on a starting lineup.
They’ll have their work cut out against an Alabama defense that ranks second nationally against the run (78 ypg), but the Tigers did a good job against sturdy defensive lines from Florida and Ole Miss.
Left tackle La'el Collins is the group’s star, but it might be the interior line’s play that determines LSU’s level of success in what will surely be a smashmouth game.
Player to watch: Elliott Porter