Previewing LSU vs. Bama: The Rematch

I think most of us are well aware that the BCS is a farce and an insult to college football in virtually every regard of its existence. It gives us meaningless games that divert College Football's profits into the hands of an elite class and then pretends that our system for choosing teams to play in these games is remotely informed or conclusive.

That said, I still enjoy college football and I didn't hate LSU v Bama round one as much as many others. The lack of scoring was not unlike a good soccer game -- . points didn't come cheaply, they had to be earned.

Round II is likely to be different as each team adapts to the mistakes and successes of the previous game. I think the team that has the greater remaining resources to throw at their opponent has the greatest chance at victory. Let's examine who that might be.

Alabama O vs. LSU D

The Alabama offense, like the LSU crew, is designed around sustainability. Unlike most Big 12 offenses, which project championship hopes around the development of a QB while hoping the supporting cast is strong his junior & senior year, Alabama's system is designed to emphasize the running game and whichever skill positions are strongest that year.

Saban only needs a caretaker to run this system. If the QB can avoid turnovers the running game will limit possessions for each squad and Alabama vs. your defense will generally prove to be more efficient than your offense vs. the Alabama D.

The real heroes of the offense are on the OL, where you see the strength of the Tide's evaluations and player development. Alabama excels here at finding big kids with nasty dispositions and keeping the program stocked with talent at various levels of schematic proficiency and physical development. They load up on 300+ pound monsters who can move piles on inside zone and power schemes.

Bama runs balanced pro-style schemes that can attack multiple parts of the field. They utilize some misdirection, play-action, and a screen game like you would see on Sundays. Of course, having a guy like Trent Richardson toting the rock makes all of these things easier.

Richardson is a true feature back. He's not limited to specific runs or packages and can read blocks in all the schemes. He's also receiving threat out of the backfield and can handle 30+ touches in a game. Strength, speed, hands, smarts - he's the total package and will prove it at the next level.

Marquise Maze is the target for their constraint/downfield passing attack and he's basically Ryan Broyles-lite. His speed demands space and then Maze exploits it.

The challenge of facing Alabama is that it's hard to totally shut down an offense with so much talent and balance. They generally don't pull away from you on the scoreboard but their defense and the way their rush offense shortens the game makes a 10 point lead nearly insurmountable.

LSU's defense is approaching legendary status with all their victories and successes over pro-style power teams like Bama mixed with dominant performances against Oregon, West Virginia, and Arkansas. Their secret isn't schematic but merely in their exceptional talent at the most important positions: DL and DB.

Disguising coverage and blitzes is easy when you have five future NFL defensive backs in the secondary (ask 2005 Texas) that can cover tremendous ground and hit like linebackers. Their safeties can align in a 2-deep shell and then play Cover-1 with one in deep centerfield and the other up on the line filling the alley. LSU is a classic press-coverage team, so they'll challenge every part of the route tree at times and mix that with softer zone where they close and tackle with force. You never know which it will be.

It makes things extremely difficult for caretaker QBs looking for easy reads. LSU also has that exceptional DL which is similarly loaded with pro prospects and doesn't allow a ton of time to find and hit throws accurate enough to beat Claiborne, Mathieu, etc.

Alabama would seem to be more well-designed to handle this team than most by running big formations that keep the 5th DB off the field and pit Richardson against smaller defenders in the alley, or the LSU linebackers which are good but not great. Richardson was a playmaker at times in the first matchup but Alabama curiously only gave him 23 carries and 5 passes. Given Saban's new understanding of the nature of this matchup I would expect to see a steep decline in their 29 pass attempts in favor of an attempt to pound the LSU front into submission with 45-50 run calls.

I'm sure they are also hoping for better health from Maze, who found his open field juke-box ran low on hits after he rolled his ankle and lost his suddenness in changing directions.

It would be exceedingly difficult for LSU to hold down Alabama as well as they did last time as Saban is likely to have more misdirection, no abandon in running Richardson, and a healthier Maze. However, they may not need to.

LSU O vs. Alabama D

The LSU offense is designed similarly to the Bama unit save with more use of option-concepts, and a massive fullback who helps them pound teams into submission. Jefferson adds a ton to their offense and his increased snaps in round one was critical in delivering LSU's victory.

Reuben Randle and Russell Shepard give them some big weapons on the outside and I like Ford & co. at tailback as well. Like Alabama, the run-centric nature of this offense means that it is well-equipped to adapt and feature whatever talent is available. Jefferson does offer playmaking at QB in his ability to scramble when things break down as well as opening up the wide world of zone-read and option football in deploying LSU's skill athletes.

The Alabama defense is a fairly unique animal, although some of it's concepts are not foreign to us after watching Muschamp's unit for 3 years.

His pattern-matching MOFC coverages get a lot of attention, and his situational defense has been pretty influential as well and seems to have been one of the main principles Muschamp brought to Austin.

However, much of his system is built around what he does with his fronts and his 3 DL. On the depth chart the defense reads like a 3-4 with a nose tackle, 2 defensive ends, and 4 linebacker positions. 3-4 defense with a true nose tackle, that means 2-gap read and react defense right? Well, that 4th linebacker is basically a defensive end-pass rusher, so it must actually be a 1-gap attacking defense? Not quite.

The middle linebacker in this scheme sets Saban's Over/Under fronts some of which involve both 1-gap and 2-gap techniques. In different fronts, any of the DL might be 2-gapping, although generally that falls to their nose-tackle and strongside end. That frees the other end, usually in a 3-tech, to attack his gap and also frees the linebackers either to attack gaps or just escape blocks.

It also lends itself well to nickel and dime packages because the linebackers you are taking off the field often don't have run responsibilities that a safety or corner couldn't handle against spread personnel.That's partly how they managed our running game so easily with 5 men in the box and 6 defensive backs in the game, that and our own ineptitude. Then there are the blitzes and disguises available to a team that only has 3 guys playing with their hands in the dirt.

Alabama's defense is well trained and theoretically perfect for leveraging their players to absolutely shut down any kind of offense. The only limitations come from finding personnel. Where do you get these 2-gapping monsters inside? How do you find the biggest and fastest linebackers? Where are all the corners who are being asked to lock-down the sidelines coming from?

Their nose guard, Josh Chapman, comes from the JUCO ranks. Many of their other stars can be found easily enough in Alabama but they also come from Florida, Georgia, and the other talent-rich southern states. Over-signing also generates a larger pool of players to find help find these personnel.

As it happens, despite their abundance of talent, cure-all defensive schemes, and supreme training and development from Saban's staff, they actually have a few weaknesses.

Playing in the SEC against other run-centric offenses means that their personnel is large and conditioned to play down hill. Jordan Shipley demonstrated that they can be vulnerable to double moves and speedy personnel and Tebow's Gator offense had similar success spacing out their back 7 and making them change direction.

With Jefferson running the show, the Tiger offense can also challenge the pattern-matching Tide coverages with his scrambling abilities. One downside of matchup-zone is that it can lead to a defense becoming susceptible to a scrambling QB. Normally an offense wouldn't draw enough benefit from that to overcome the Tree Poisoners but in a contest this close it can be the difference.

In fact, the zone-read, scrambling, and other dynamics offered to LSU by Jefferson are the clincher in this game. While the LSU defense draws its strength from having the athleticism to recover and defend the entire field, the Alabama defense will be stretched in their efforts to defend the entire field by the unpredictable options afforded by a mobile QB.

Call it LSU 20-17. Thoughts? Or are we all boycotting?

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