Behind Enemy Lines: The Daily Reveille’s Kennedi Landry previews top-three matchup

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Behind Enemy Lines: The Daily Reveille’s Kennedi Landry previews top-three matchup

CW/ Kennedi Landry

CW/ Kennedi Landry

CW/ Kennedi Landry

CW/ Kennedi Landry

Ben Stansell, Assistant Sports Editor

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This is LSU’s biggest game since … ?

Every game after the Troy loss in 2017 felt super important, but I think this is the biggest since the 2015 LSU-Alabama game, in my opinion. LSU went into that game undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the first College Football Playoff rankings of that year, while Alabama was 7-1 going into that matchup. If LSU wins that game against Alabama, the domino effect of losses against Arkansas and Ole Miss likely doesn’t happen, and Les Miles may not get fired the following season.

This year’s game is basically a play-in for the SEC Championship Game, which LSU has not appeared in since 2011. If LSU wants even a fleeting chance of making the CFP, this is the game for it.

Could you put in words the kind of raucous environment that Alabama’s players will be walking into on Saturday night?

It’s hard to accurately describe Death Valley at night, much less a game of this caliber. There’s this great Dennis Dodd quote where he describes Tiger Stadium as “loud, strange and holy.” I’ve been to a lot of LSU games in my life, even before college, and the Georgia game three weeks ago was the loudest and craziest I’ve ever seen it. I expect Saturday to be even better (or worse, depending on how you look at it). It sounds cheesy, but a Saturday night in Death Valley is an experience unlike any other. I honestly can’t imagine being an opposing player in Tiger Stadium come Saturday.

Do you think LSU’s secondary will have success defending Tua Tagovailoa and Alabama’s talented receivers? Do you think they could even force Tagovailoa to, dare I say, throw his first interception of the season?

Everybody knows LSU claims the DBU [defensive back university] moniker, and for good reason. Most quarterbacks don’t even throw towards All-American cornerback Greedy Williams, and former five-star recruit Kristian Fulton doesn’t give quarterbacks much of an option on the other side. Fulton has one interception on the season, but totals seven pass breakups and eight passes defended. LSU safety Grant Delpit is in a world of his own. He leads the team and the SEC in interceptions (5) and is by far the Tigers’ most versatile weapon.

I think LSU can have success defending Tagovailoa and we should be on alert for his first interception of the season. This season, LSU’s secondary is holding teams to less than 200 yards in the air per game and totals 14 interceptions on the season. It’s not Alabama, but LSU has also been able to stifle Ole Miss’ “Nasty Wideouts” and quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, as well as another talented quarterback in Jake Fromm.

Typically, Alabama’s losses have come when the opposing team’s quarterback plays light out. Do you think Joe Burrow can have that type of performance against the Crimson Tide?

That’s really tough, because Burrows’ numbers don’t lead you to believe he can have that type of performance, but I think he has the ability to do so. Burrow has been criticized, sometimes rightfully so, for not having a high number of explosive plays. But I think he’s made the plays he’s needed to make so far and has limited his turnovers, with only three interceptions.

This has been a focus for a few weeks now, but it doesn’t just fall on Burrow. Like I said, he hasn’t been perfect, but LSU receivers have dropped a numbers of passes that were on the money – most notably, four drops in the final two drives of LSU’s 26-19 loss to Florida. I think Burrow is capable of playing light out, but it’s up to the receivers and the offensive line to give him as much help as they can.

How different is this year’s LSU offense from years past?

I think the biggest difference this year is how the offense is almost 50-50 between the run game and pass game. Before the Mississippi State game, LSU actually had exactly 1,415 yards rushing and 1,415 yards passing, showcasing the balance the Tigers have this year.

LSU in the past, especially during the Les Miles era, trended toward handing the ball off to whatever star running back was in the backfield and going from there. New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger has, like Nick Saban said, created a different offense from anything LSU has seen in years. Ensminger has spread the ball out all over the field, creating threats on every corner.

There’s been a big hullabaloo about LSU linebacker Devin White’s first-half suspension. How big of a factor will his two-quarter absence be in this contest?

Devin White is the unprecedented leader of this LSU defense. He leads the team, and is third in the SEC, in tackles at 76, and adds a sack, four pass breakups and six quarterback hurries. Beyond those physical attributes and statistics, White is the signal caller on defense. He provides a stable front and leadership for this defense.

For all that LSU is missing in White, it will look to sophomore Jacob Phillips to make the calls and freshman Patrick Queen to makes the plays. Phillips is the other starting inside linebacker with 53 tackles, and Queen has appeared in all eight games during defensive rotations, totaling 13 tackles on the season.

Devin White’s absence will surely be felt in the first half, but I don’t think it will be make or break for this team.

How do you expect LSU’s offense to attack Alabama? Will it take chances or play more conservatively?

Offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger definitely doesn’t plan to play this game conservatively. Against Georgia, LSU came out firing on all cylinders. They played up-tempo and even went a perfect 4-for-4 on fourth down conversions. I expect that same type of offense to be on display against Alabama – with no huddle and taking chances downfield.

Burrow has mentioned these past two week about improving his deep ball, which made a big difference in last year’s matchup when LSU was unable to hit those and Alabama was.

What will it take for LSU to pull off the upset?

LSU needs to convert in the red zone. The Tigers have done a fine job moving the ball, but once they pass the 50-yard line, they falter. Burrow even said earlier this week that LSU won’t be able to settle for field goals and still win this game.

SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy said Monday that the only way to beat Alabama is to “match their offense blow-for-blow.” While I think that’s hyperbolic, McElroy makes a good point. The LSU defense will handle its business, I have no doubt about that, but the offense will need to be nearly perfect to win this game.

What is your score prediction and how did you arrive at it?

I’ve been grappling with this score prediction for weeks now, to be honest. Obviously Alabama has been dropping 50 points on everybody, but LSU’s defense hasn’t allowed more than 20 points all season either (Florida had 26, but the last touchdown was a pick six). It’ll be a lot closer than people think, this matchup always is, but any spread from 40 to 3 points wouldn’t surprise me.

Realistically, I’m going to take Alabama 35-24, just under the 14.5-point spread. LSU’s defense definitely isn’t going to allow more than that, and teams like Tennessee and Arkansas have put up 31 points and 21 points on Alabama this year. I think it’ll be a battle going into the fourth quarter before Alabama pulls away.