WHAT: Alabama vs. LSU
WHEN: 6 p.m. CT Saturday
WHERE: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
SERIES: Alabama leads, 55-26-5
LINE: Alabama by 13.5
THIS GAME WILL DETERMINE
Control of the SEC West. Alabama would lock up the division if it wins its next two games on the road against LSU and Ole Miss, but the Tigers would move into position for a spot in Atlanta if they upset the Tide. LSU has already beaten Ole Miss, giving them one potentially necessary tiebreaker.
THREE THINGS TO LOOK FOR
1. Has Brian Kelly closed the gap between Alabama, LSU? The Tigers have always had one of the SEC’s few programs that can truly compete with Alabama on the recruiting trail. But the uneven tenure of Ed Orgeron led LSU to look elsewhere for a coach and it landed on Kelly, who like Nick Saban is one of the NCAA’s top 20 all-time winningest coaches at any level. Saban has mentioned multiple times how LSU is “well-coached” with Kelly at the helm, and Saturday night will be a chance for LSU to prove it now has the coach and talent to match up against Alabama.
2. Baton Rouge on a Saturday night: Only four players on Alabama’s roster — Cameron Latu, Jaylen Moody, Emil Ekiyor and Kendall Randolph — remain from the Tide’s 2018 trip to Tiger Stadium, the last played in front of a fully-packed crowd. The results in similar atmospheres this season have not been encouraging for Alabama. When Alabama played in a charged atmosphere in Knoxville last month, Saban sensed anxiety from his players. After the Tide snuck past Texas in September, Saban wondered why there were not as many “hateful competitors” on his team as years past. Baton Rouge for a night game is intimidating alone, but a No. 10 ranking for LSU and an unexpected chance to make a run at an SEC title up the ante for the crowd even more. Alabama players will need to respond accordingly.
3. Can improvements from last came carry over after bye week? Saban was pleased with how his team responded from its loss to Tennessee by beating Mississippi State, 30-6. He was also happy with how his team treated its open week and its practices thereafter, but added Wednesday night, “We’ll see how we play.” There were positive steps by the defense, especially in the secondary, against Mississippi State after it was shredded by the Vols a week earlier. But against a more dynamic quarterback in Jayden Daniels and an LSU team averaging 35 points per game, can that success carry over for Alabama?
LSU OTs Will Campbell and Emery Jones vs. Alabama OLBs Will Anderson and Dallas Turner — LSU is starting a pair of freshman at offensive tackle who Saban has said are getting “better and better” this season. But they will face no bigger test than Alabama’s bookend pass rushers.
BY THE NUMBERS
269 — Career wins by Brian Kelly, who coached 13 seasons in Division II and then Division I since 2004. That is the 19th-most in NCAA history. Nick Saban has 276 career wins, although all have come at the Division I level.
LSU PLAYER TO WATCH
QB Jayden Daniels and WR Kayshon Boutte — Daniels, the Arizona State transfer, is a dual threat who has almost double the rushing yards of any other player on the team. Boutte has not been nearly as productive this season (27 catches for 288 yards), but broke out for 115 yards two weeks ago against Florida and had 111 yards on eight catches against Alabama in 2020. He broke the SEC’s single-game record two weeks later with 308.
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.