KEY MATCHUPS IN THE GAME OF THE CENTURY OF THE WEEK, LSU AT ALABAMA

Oh my god it's the game of the century of the week. We sort of assume lines in this game will start with advanced weaponry like pistols. Then they will run out of ammunition and start clubbing each other with the guns, and then the second half will just fight with anything they can grab in the mud. Given a sort of brutal push on the lines, these are the fault lines (outside of, um, the lines) in the Bama/LSU game.

SPENCER WARE VERSUS EVERYONE. It will not matter how well LSU blocks their assignments: for much of the game, Spencer Ware will have to wear one or two Alabama linebackers or DBs like backpacks--angry, punching, 230 pound animate backpacks who want the ball. It is going to hurt a lot to be Spencer Ware, and you should envy nothing he experiences on Saturday. He's going through Hell's car wash, and there is little to be done about it. 

What he does need to do is what Ware has done in every other game he's played in as a healthy, fully utilized running back: plug away. LSU does not seem to care too much about pounding the ball for big plays so much as using it as a cudgel to loosen up defenses. The best example of LSU's ideal early game strategy is their first drive against Miss State from earlier this season. The Tigers ground out 17 plays, ran on ten of them, and used Ware as the hammer on eight of them.

That drive ended with a field goal, but working seven minutes off the clock and putting the Miss State in an oxygen debt for the rest of the game was the real goal, and it worked brilliantly. Ware doesn't have to rip off huge runs, and likely can't, but that is not the point. The point is inflicting pain at length, and doing so with enough consistency to physically and mentally weaken the Alabama front for damage to be done later. 

THE ALABAMA PASSING GAME VERSUS LSU'S LINEBACKERS. We mean this as a compliment: Jim McElwain runs a dickhead offense. Ted Williams was fond of saying that he hated hitting against Tom Eddie Lopat because "That fucking Lopat is all backwards." So it is with McElwain, one of the few coordinators who successfully blends a burly power run game with screens, option routes underneath, and a willingness (when taken off the chain) to throw downfield.

Those option routes are the tricky part, and where LSU might face some serious moments of seasickness leaning left and right to chase receivers. Throwing on the perimeter against Honey Badger and Mo Claiborne is NOT a good idea, but as West Virginia showed, there's hay to be made across the middle of LSU's defense. You'll lose some teeth, sure, but teeth are temporary anyway and glory is forever.* Alabama will move tight ends, wide receivers, and running backs across the middle, throw screens/slants/various forms of dickery, and then throw over the top just to keep the corners off their throats. Combine that with the threat of Richardson and Lacy ripping out of the backfield, and there's all kinds of nastiness to defend for LSU's defense here. 

*PS. Everyone is losing teeth in this game, and this point is irrelevant.

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RAMGOD'S FAVORITE PUPIL VERSUS MARK BARRON.  Alabama will cover man-to-man with a safety over the top, and once you kick in carefully selected play-action passes, that means Randle in single coverage, most likely covered by the occasionally flammable Mark Barron. There is little that technique can do to mask this mismatch: Randle's big enough to muscle off Barron, can likely make space on deep routes, and could be a handful in the red zone in jump ball situations. The one clear mismatch LSU has over Alabama is here, and that's why you'll see LSU very selectively attempt to exploit it (because the key to "Jarrett Lee, Efficiency Expert" is having "Jarrett Lee do everything selectively, and with a positive down and yardage.') Ramgod could be very pleased, indeed.

TRENT RICHARDSON. There's not much more to this one than "can embarrass anyone on your defense at any time at any position, including putting your defensive tackles on his shoulders and running with them." We are out of hyperbole when it comes to him. If LSU holds him to below 100 yards rushing and two TDs, they have had a brilliant day. If not, then they are just as awestruck as everyone else by the cleat marks on their foreheads, and will have plenty of company.

PUNT PUNT PUNT.  Brad Wing has been deadly on coffin corner kicks all season, and that's an integral part of the plan: pin Bama deep, hope the game switches from known killer (Trent Richardson) to slightly less established threat of killing (A.J. McCarron,) and then do what LSU has done all season in playing field position. Wing's the tool for doing this, and he is more than capable of the task.

QUIEN ES MAS TRICKACIOUS? Nick Saban will likely try to vary pattern by throwing in a few trick plays because big games can be about small breaks in tendencies, and also because Les Miles just sort of brings them out in other coaches. Watch Miles actually applaud if it's especially well done, because Hat game respect mock Hat game.

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