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LSU-Alabama defensive breakdown

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.

Defensive line

Alabama

For the first half of the season, the numbers just weren’t there. Despite having arguably the best collection of talent during Nick Saban’s tenure, the D-line wasn’t getting into the backfield any more than in years past.

Then came Arkansas, Texas A&M and Tennessee. In those games, the defense racked up 12 sacks and 24 tackles for loss.

The key against LSU likely won’t be getting to the quarterback, though. Big bodies like A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Brandon Ivory will have to fill the gaps against the Tigers’ vaunted rushing attack.

Against Arkansas, which employs a similar run-heavy offense, Alabama’s D-line helped limit the Razorbacks to 89 yards rushing and 2.3 yards per carry.

Player to watch: A’Shawn Robinson

LSU

As on the offensive side of the ball, LSU had major problems along the line of scrimmage earlier in the season. The Tigers were getting production from ends Danielle Hunter (who is second on the team with 55 tackles and has a team-high 10 tackles for loss) and Jermauria Rasco (42 tackles, team-high three sacks), but now seem to have found a solid combination in the middle with Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux, too.

There are entirely different levels of difficulty involved in shutting down Florida, Kentucky and Ole Miss and attacking Alabama’s power running game, however. Saturday will be the biggest test of the progress LSU has made up front.

Player to watch: Danielle Hunter

Linebacker

Alabama

The emergence of Reggie Ragland has meant everything to a group that had to replace All-American C.J. Mosley this season.

Finally using his strength and athleticism to his benefit, Ragland has become the team’s leading tackler with 56 total stops, and ranks third with 6.5 tackles for loss.

With he and big Trey DePriest in the middle, Alabama has the bodies to stop the run.

Throw in the likely return of Denzel Devall at Sam linebacker and Xzavier Dickson’s continual improvement at the Jack linebacker position, and the Tide are in good shape.

Player to watch: Denzel Devall

LSU

The two main names to know here are Kwon Alexander and Kendell Beckwith, both players who opted to sign with LSU over offers from Alabama.

Weakside linebacker Alexander, a native of Oxford, Alabama, leads LSU with 57 tackles and ranks second with six tackles for loss. Beckwith has been a force since entering the starting lineup at middle linebacker three games ago. He’s third on the team with 52 stops and will be one of the key players to watch as the Tigers attempt to defend Alabama’s runs between the tackles.

Since Alabama is a bit more traditional on offense than some of the Tigers’ recent opponents, we may see more of strongside linebacker Lamar Louis than we’ve seen in recent games. Louis made three tackles against Ole Miss’ spread offense and didn’t make a stop against Kentucky.

Player to watch: Kendell Beckwith

Defensive back

Alabama

Landon Collins isn’t letting the whole LSU thing go.

“Personally, this game means a lot,” the junior said. “Just want to show them I picked the right team.”

An All-America-caliber safety, Collins has done well for himself at Alabama ever since his infamous public decision to spurn in-state LSU.

But Alabama’s secondary is more than Collins. Cyrus Jones has stepped up in his first full year starting at cornerback and the battle of Eddie Jackson and Tony Brown has produced good results at the other cornerback position. Big-bodied Jarrick Williams is a weapon at the nickel corner position and Nick Perry has held down the second safety spot better than many expected.

Player to watch: Landon Collins

LSU

Thanks largely to Amari Cooper (71 catches, 1,132 yards, nine touchdowns), Alabama has much more than a run-only offense. Keeping Cooper under wraps will be a major test for an LSU secondary that enters as the SEC’s top pass defense (158.4 ypg).

For the most part, LSU cornerbacks Tre’Davious White, Rashard Robinson and Jalen Collins have been impressive this season. Opponents have beaten them deep a time or two, but they have mostly supplied tight coverage to this point. They will all get their shots covering Cooper on Saturday.

Safety has been a bit more of an adventure at times. Veterans Ronald Martin (48 tackles, two interceptions, team-high seven pass breakups) and Jalen Mills (36 tackles, three tackles for loss) are the starters, but youngsters Rickey Jefferson and Jamal Adams have made some big plays lately.

Keep an eye on Adams in particular, as he is quickly developing into a star in the LSU secondary.

Player to watch: Jamal Adams