There’s a pretty important football game scheduled to take place this weekend in Tuscaloosa when a battle of undefeateds LSU and Alabama square off with monumental implications. If you are in town, be sure to stop by World of Beer where TDN will be broadcasting live. If not, be sure to tune in on Twitter.
Every bit of hype surrounding this game is warranted. The top two QB prospects in the rising draft class are competing against each other with elite talent all over the football field. The winner will control its own destiny in the SEC West and be in the driver's seat for a berth in the College Football Playoffs. This week’s 6-Pack is all about the x-factors that could dictate the outcome.
I hope that this column has become a staple for you each week, but just in case you are new, 6-Pack Thursday is my weekly brain dump on six football-related things that involve the NFL, College Football or NFL Draft.
Let’s crack this thing open.
Joe Burrow Under Pressure
Completing 78.8 percent of his passes for 2,805 yards with 30 touchdown passes in eight games, Burrow is having a sensational season. Typically the best way to impact quarterback performance is by getting pressure on them and in Terrell Lewis and Anfernee Jennings, Alabama has the rushers needed to apply heat on Burrow.
There’s just one problem - Burrow is completely unfazed by pressure. Boasting a remarkable 151.6 pass rating under pressure, Burrow is so calm when rushers close in and comfortably keeps his eyes down the field while finding his outlets. In fact, Burrow’s passer rating under pressure is 13 points better than when he is kept clean. The Tide will have to pick its poison when opting to aggressively attack Burrow or keep guys in coverage.
LSU DB Weaknesses
LSU CB Kristian Fulton and S Grant Delpit are outstanding football players that profile as a first-round prospects. With that said, they aren’t without their warts. For Fulton, he isn’t the most explosive athlete with the speed needed to carry top speed down the field in man coverage. In Delpit’s case, tackling has been a major issue. Against Alabama, those weaknesses will be exposed and it’s a great challenge for both of them.
With speedsters Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Jaylen Waddle at receiver for Alabama, Fulton will be tasked with covering elite athletes. When they get the ball, Delpit must be a sure tackler or the chunk plays will pile on. In addition, RB Najee Harris is a load to bring down in the open field. It’s sink or swim for Delpit and Fulton this week.
LSU Pass Rush
While Tua performs well amid chaos, applying pressure on him represents a 50 point decrease in passer rating compared to when he is kept clean. Michael Divinity, who leads LSU in sacks on the season with three, is no longer with the team. As a unit, LSU has had modest production when it comes to sacking quarterbacks which places a big burden on K’Lavon Chaisson to produce on Saturday.
Tua has only been sacked eight times this season, a credit to his ability to get the ball out quickly and the outstanding offensive tackle play of Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills. The Tigers need to get creative with its pressure packages to affect Tua and speed up and already fast processor.
Home field Advantage
Alabama doesn’t lose often and even less frequently at home. The Tide have defeated LSU eight consecutive times and the Tigers haven’t won in Tuscaloosa since 2011 in a 9-6 overtime thriller.
Home field advantage always matters, and it could prove to be a decisive advantage on Saturday for Alabama.
LSU is Battle Tested
While Alabama gets to play host on Saturday, LSU enters Tuscaloosa as the more battle-tested team in 2019. The only ranked opponent Alabama has faced this season was No. 24 Texas A&M.
Meanwhile, LSU has already been tested with three top-10 opponents while claiming wins over No. 9 Texas, No. 7 Florida and No. 9 Auburn. While Alabama has plenty of big game experience, this year’s squad does not boast the resume LSU does and hasn’t come close to play as challenging of a schedule to this point. This could help narrow the gap in the disadvantages LSU faces as the road team on Saturday.
In a tightly contested matchup, it’s often the little things that can make a big difference and the kicking situation for Alabama has been less than stellar. Whether it has been Will Reichard or Joseph Bulovas, the Tide is only making 64.3 percent of its field goals this season which is 20 percent fewer than LSU.
The pressure to execute will be high on Saturday which doesn’t bode well for a field goal unit for Alabama that has struggled this season.