Bama-LSU might be another defensive struggle

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When they last met, Alabama vs. LSU was all about Nick Saban coaching against his former team.

This year, there's more pressing business: keeping in the mix to play for the national title.

Two Top 10 Southeastern Conference teams meet Saturday, with a pair formidable defenses and one Heisman Trophy candidate in a game that might be low on points if not drama.

Yes, again.

The first such rendezvous this season resulted in one touchdown and a 13-3 victory by Tim Tebow and No. 1 Florida over then-No. 4 LSU.

Saturday's matchup between ninth-ranked LSU and No. 3 Alabama has all the makings of a similarly defensive clash. And the stakes are at least as high.

It's enough to make swashbuckling LSU coach Les Miles embrace a kick.

"If you punt it and go play defense, that's a good choice," Miles said. "There is nothing wrong with that."

Warm up those legs, P.J. Fitzgerald and Derek Helton. The way these defenses are playing, it could be a busy day for the punters.

Alabama (8-0, 5-0) allows the fifth-fewest points a game in the nation and has given up just one touchdown in the last three games. Only Texas is stingier against the run.

LSU (7-1, 4-1) sports the No. 7 scoring defense, has given up 36 points in its last four games and is coming off a shutout of Tulane.

The game could determine who plays Florida in the SEC championship game. It will definitely be Alabama if the Tide wins. If the Tigers win, they clinch the rematch with wins against Mississippi and Arkansas.

Either way, the survivor is still in the mix for a national title shot.

"In a game like this, you go out on the field and whoever plays the hardest and whoever does the little things right the most consistently throughout the game, that's who will win the game," Tide linebacker Rolando McClain said. "You can't really focus on 'we've got to make this big play' or 'we've got to do this or we've got to do that'. We have to focus on the game plan, perfect it and execute it."

Miles looks at an Alabama team led by McClain and nose guard Terrence Cody on defense and relentless runner Mark Ingram -- widely considered a Heisman candidate -- on offense and concludes: "There are no weaknesses."

The defense certainly hasn't shown many. The Tide allows only 65 yards a game rushing and has given up only one touchdown on the ground in the past seven games. Alabama's 23 sacks are tied for the league lead with Mississippi and Florida, which racked up five sacks in its meeting with LSU.

LSU's defense has allowed only one touchdown in the last two games, and that came in the final 3 seconds against Auburn.

"I think that both defenses are very good and the structures are sound and solid," Miles said. "They play aggressively, and they make tackles. I enjoy watching good college football, and I think certainly that's what will be played this Saturday."

The key to stopping Alabama's offense has been to try to slow down Ingram, who had at least 140 yards in three straight games before being held to 99 against Tennessee two weeks ago going into an open date. The Tide squeaked by in that one, winning 12-10 after Cody blocked two field goals in the fourth quarter.

Ingram has been impressed by an LSU defense led by linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and defensive backs Chad Jones and Patrick Peterson.

"They are big and fast, strong and physical," he said. "The scheme they play, they do it really well. They are coached up really well. They all do their assignments. They all get to the ball and they make it really hard for offenses to have success."

LSU has had plenty of success in Tuscaloosa, where the Tigers have won four straight. Alabama's overtime victory last year in Baton Rouge snapped a five-game LSU winning streak in the rivalry.

One of these two teams has represented the West in the SEC championship game three of the past four seasons.

"I can tell you that our football team wants to compete for the SEC Western Division championship every year, and certainly that's this game," Miles said.

His teams haven't fared well lately against Top 10 teams, losing three straight after winning six in a row.

Alabama has won five such regular season games in a row, but lost in the SEC championship game and the Sugar Bowl last year to Top 10 teams.

But Saban has stuck to his standard message this week: Focus on the process, not the results.

"I know it's a result world, but great competitors don't focus on the results they focus on what they need to do to get the results," the Alabama coach said. "Sometimes that's difficult to do with a lot of the external things that we live with, but that's the most important thing to playing your best. Maybe we were affected by that a little bit in the last couple of games."