The microphone was passed around an auditorium inside Tiger Stadium until it reached a reporter in the second row, who, like much of the sporting world, must have taken a glance at a few Alabama box scores.
The reporter raised the microphone and asked LSU coach Ed Orgeron: “How does it change the dynamic knowing that it’d probably take at least 30 points (to win)?”
Unappreciative of the assumption, Orgeron said: “Who said 30 points?”
Tennessee might, after the Volunteers lost 58-21 on Oct. 20, or perhaps Missouri, which lost 39-10 to the No. 1 Crimson Tide the week before; but Orgeron’s answer echoed the theme of previous years: this Alabama offense has not seen this LSU defense.
The theme holds up.
Alabama averaged 43 points in 2016, just before it entered a scoreless tie with LSU into the fourth quarter, eventually winning 10-0.
Again in 2017, Alabama averaged 43 points before settling for a 24-10 victory against LSU.
And who hasn’t heard about this year’s Alabama offense? The NCAA’s leading scoring offense (54.1 points per game) has beaten its eight opponents by an average of 38.25 points. The offense has made watching film “kind of boring,” LSU defensive end Rashard Lawrence said.
“Every time I watch, it’s a touchdown,” said Lawrence, a junior with 33 tackles. “Looks like a rerun every drive.”
Can’t see video below? Click here.
Alabama is used to reruns. Its offense has scored a touchdown on the first drive of every game. Quarterback and Heisman frontrunner Tua Tagovailoa has thrown 25 touchdowns and no interceptions. And once the game is out of hand, Tagovailoa leaves the game before the fourth quarter (he has left two games with minor injuries).
But once again, this Alabama offense hasn’t seen a defense comparable to LSU. Every opponent the Crimson Tide has faced this season ranks 80th or worse in scoring defense — except Texas A&M (32nd, 21.5 points allowed per game), which lost 45-23 to Alabama on Sept. 22.
LSU ranks seventh nationally in scoring defense (15.1 points allowed per game), and the Tigers shut down one of the nation’s top scoring offenses, Ole Miss (38.4 points per game), in a 45-16 win on Sept. 29.
As for Tagovailoa’s unblemished interception record, Orgeron pointed out that the Tigers lead the nation with 14 picks.
In three games — Auburn, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State — LSU has made an interception within its opponent’s first three plays.
“(Tagovailoa’s) a great quarterback,” said strong safety Grant Delpit, who is tied second nationally with five interceptions. “But he’s about to play us. So he might make a little mistake.”
Tagovailoa has been too comfy in the pocket, said outside linebacker Michael Divinity. Alabama has only given up five sacks all season, tied for third-fewest nationally.
“From watching film, he’s sitting in the pocket comfortable and was able to pick his first and fourth option,” said Divinity, who is tied with Delpit the team lead with four sacks. “We just have to focus on getting a pass rush on him. Putting pressure on him, getting him uncomfortable in the pocket.”
Midway through the season, establishing a pass rush was an issue for LSU. After recording nine sacks in the first two games, the Tigers recorded just four in the next four games. LSU broke out of the rut with four sacks in a 36-16 win over Georgia on Oct. 13, then forced Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald into four interceptions the next week.
It is the chicken-and-egg debate of Saturday’s showdown between No. 4 LSU and No. 1 Alabama:
Part of the issue had been replacing injured pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener against Miami. LSU was unable to establish a pass rush with the standard three or four defenders at the front of the Tigers’ 3-4 scheme, which required extra players to blitz.
Against Georgia, three of the sacks were by standard pass rushers.
“Us rushing three or four guys — that’s going to be key (against Alabama),” Lawrence said. “Because if we can’t get home with our four defensive linemen, we’re going to have to bring extra guys, and that can put us in bad situations in the back end. Early on, we have to win our one-on-ones.”
Forcing sacks and forcing interceptions are part of the plan in toppling the nation’s top offense, which hasn’t been under much stress all season.
“You come into Tiger Stadium and it’s loud, you’re going to be under some stress,” Orgeron said. “You play our defense, you’re going to be under some stress. So we expect this to be an exciting game. There’s going to be stress on both sides, and we’ll see what happens in the game.”