Is Alabama truly head and shoulders above every other FBS contender in 2018-19?
We’re about to find out.
All due respect to the Clemson Tigers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish. But if you wanted to construct a match-up that would finally test the Crimson Tide in the 3rd and 4th quarter, it would look a lot like Saturday’s trip to Baton Rouge to face the LSU Tigers.
Ed Orgeron’s Tigers are 7-1 after facing a Murderer’s Row itinerary over the past several weeks. The lone “easy” match-up was in Week 5 when Louisiana State handled the Ole Miss Rebels 45-16. The only loss came in a close scrum against a resurgent Florida team. LSU rebounded from its loss at The Swamp with a shock-headline 36-16 drubbing of powerful Georgia. Then Mississippi State visited Tiger country and was crushed 19-3 as Orgeron’s defense put on a masterpiece.
It sounds like a squad that could compete in the SEC West and possibly threaten to play in January, right?
But there’s a hiccup. First, LSU must get past Alabama on Saturday evening. The Tigers are a (+14) point spread underdog.
And as good as the Tigers have been against college teams this season, there’s at least some evidence that Alabama should not be handicapped like a college program but as an All-Star team.
Who: Alabama Crimson Tide at LSU Tigers
When: Saturday, November 3rd, 8 PM EST
Where: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, LA
Lines: Alabama (-14) at LSU (+14) / O/U Total: (53.5)
In pure athleticism Alabama is closer to an NFL club than a college unit. Raekwon Davis, Anfernee Jennings and Mark Wilson from the 2018-19 Tide front-7 could all become 1st round draft picks in 2019. Multiple offensive linemen from the squad will probably go pro, and RB Damien Harris, who could have been drafted in 2018, decided to come back to ‘Bama for another year.
Harris isn’t even the team’s principal rusher right now. That honor goes to Najee Harris (no relation), another intimidating specimen who will get a look from many NFL teams before all is said and done.
But this season, in which Saban’s team has blown out everybody in 45 minutes or less, the real catalyst is at QB…a position at which Alabama is probably better than a lot of National Football League teams right now.
Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa represents the ultimate product of a sea-change at QB that has grown out of the college ranks. In a landscape where signal-callers need “systems” modified to their skills, Tagovailoa – still an underclassman – has the skill-set to literally run any NFL or NCAA playbook and be victorious.
The sophomore is confident in the pocket and can make any throw. His vision and ability to check-down are unsurpassed in the FBS. He’s swift and elusive as a runner, and though Saban has unsurprisingly dialed-back any designed QB runs with Tua instead of Jalen Hurts taking snaps, the new starter could rush for 1000 yards in an option-based system.
Tagavailoa is CFP-tested (with a national title already on his mantle) and has been shining in blow-out after blow-out. Against Arkansas, the phenom attempted 13 passes and completed 10 of them for 334 yards and 4 touchdowns. Cough.
The Tigers feel they have upgraded the QB position with Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow taking snaps. While Burrow’s stat line isn’t the best – the junior only has 6 TD passes vs 3 interceptions on the season, and has completed about 54% of his attempts – he does bring assurance and versatility to the program at the most important spot.
Tiger tailback Nick Brossette is having an exceptional season, rushing for 10 touchdowns out of a backfield that is averaging well over 4 yards per carry. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is another weapon, a fireplug at 5’9” and over 200 pounds who has scored 5 times.
LSU’s ground game seemed to take a step back against Mississippi State after dominating the Georgia Bulldogs. Offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger called for 33 hand-offs to Brossette and Edwards-Helaire for only about 100 yards and no big plays. But the Bulldogs were not just keying on the run, but additionally so hapless with the football that the Tigers could afford to stay patient.
The LSU defense is on fire. Georgia QB Jake Fromm completed the LSU game with 2 interceptions and less than 50% completions. The Tigers sacked Fromm 4 times, and junior LB Devin White finished with an outstanding 13 tackles and a fumble recovery.
It was a comparable tale against MSU. Louisiana State only beat the other Bulldogs by a trifling 16 points, but the score is illusory as the Cowbells might as well have been 50 points behind.
I am liking LSU to cover for 3 reasons.
The Tigers would not be 2-touchdown underdogs against anyone in the FBS (even Alabama) if they had been lucky and beaten Florida instead of losing by 8 in The Swamp. But the fact that the ball bounced the Gators’ way back then has zero bearing on the result in Baton Rouge this week.
Tua Tagovailoa and his supporting ensemble have not had to play 4 tough quarters of football yet this season. In fact, Tagavailoa didn’t even take part for 60 minutes in the national title game in January. LSU has the chance to take Alabama to places it hasn’t been in 2018, a weapon at the underdog’s disposal.
Finally, a (-14) spread is a pretty safe market for an underdog-to-cover pick. The Crimson Tide could prevail comfortably and still allow the Tigers to cover. If Alabama wins by 2 touchdowns and nothing weird happens on special teams, the bet is a push.
Take the LSU Tigers and 14 points in Baton Rouge on Saturday night.