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High Stakes for LSU Offense

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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With championship implications on the line, the challenge won't just be scoring on the Crimson Tide, but keeping up with their record-setting offense as well.

The Alabama-LSU series has emerged as one of college football's preeminent rivalries, an annual matchup defined by passion and physical play. This Saturday night in Death Valley, perhaps the most exciting home venue in the country, the Tigers will host the Crimson Tide in the biggest game of the year to date. As top-ranked Alabama brings Heisman Trophy front-runner Tua Tagovailoa to town, LSU's defense, led by star cornerback Greedy Williams, will be put to the test. The offense, however, will be in the spotlight yet again.

Over the last eight meetings in the series, the Tigers have scored 82 combined points, have not totaled more than 17 in a single game and have been shutout twice. LSU has scored eight touchdowns against the Crimson Tide since the start of the 2011 season; Alabama, for point of reference, just scored eight touchdowns in its last game.

With championship implications directly on the line, the challenge, for the Tigers, won't just be scoring on the Crimson Tide defense, but keeping up with their record-setting offense as well. Alabama leads the nation with 54.1 points per game, a margin reached without Tagovailoa throwing a single pass in any fourth quarter. The Crimson Tide are well-more-than on pace to become the SEC's most-productive offense of all-time. In three true road games this season, Alabama has scored 62, 65 and 58 points. 

While the Crimson Tide enter Saturday averaging 564.3 yards per game, LSU stands at just 383.6. That said, the Tigers have been slightly more effective on the scoreboard overall, currently at 30.4 points per contest on the year; LSU has not finished the season with a rate of 30+ since 2015. The battle-tested Tigers have already played three of the top 13 teams in the country in scoring defense in Mississippi State, Georgia and Auburn and the nation's second-ranked unit in total defense in Miami.

There may be some relative chances to move the football against this visiting Alabama group. Albeit playing mostly with large leads, the Crimson Tide are giving up nearly 50 yards more per game than they did last fall. 

On Saturday, two to-date weak points will be at a crossroads for LSU: redzone conversions and big plays. The Tigers rank 125th in college football in scoring touchdowns once they cross the 20-yard line, finding the endzone only 47.4% of the time. You almost certainly won't beat this Alabama team kicking field goals. Additionally, LSU is 107th in the game in offensive plays of ten yards or more with 99. It will be very difficult to drive the length of the field against the Crimson Tide without consistent intermediate gains from scrimmage.

Paired across from Tagovailoa, the Tigers will need a good performance from quarterback Joe Burrow. The Ohio State-transfer has brought veteran stability to the quarterback position in Baton Rouge. Though Burrow has largely protected the football and added a rushing element under center at LSU, it's likely that more downfield productivity will be a must against Alabama. In recent outings against Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State, Burrow has thrown zero touchdowns and three interceptions. 

Expect getting the football to Justin Jefferson to be a major point of emphasis. He has twice as many receptions as any other option, with 30, and went for 108 yards against the defending SEC champion Bulldogs. Running backs Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who have combined for 1,218 yards and 15 touchdowns, should be the focus of the gameplan, although Alabama has allowed just three rushing scores all year, tied for the fewest in the country. LSU's offensive line will need to be at its best; the Crimson Tide lead the SEC with 26 sacks.     

Coordinator Steve Ensminger, a former quarterback for the Tigers, must find a way to keep Alabama off balance and draw up some chunk plays.

In front of a rowdy home crowd, the talented LSU defense will look to slow down an offense that is rewriting every record in the book. The offense needs to leave past struggles in the series in the rear-view.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports