Saturday will bring the game we've been waiting for all season. Hell, some have waited for it for eight years. It's No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama at 3:30 p.m. ET in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week. The winner will take control of the SEC West, while the loser will ... well, the loser will probably be just fine if we're being honest.
Still, it's a huge game, and it's not often we get matchups between the Nos. 1 and 2 teams during a regular season; in fact, it's happening for the first time since 2011. So it's something to cherish when it does happen, which it will on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, we've still got six days until the game, so let's take a look at six questions -- three each -- we have for Alabama and LSU before the biggest game of the season.
1. How healthy is Tua Tagovailoa? This could be the biggest question of them all. Tagovailoa suffered a high-ankle sprain during Alabama's win over Tennessee. It's the same injury -- though on the opposite ankle -- that he suffered during the SEC Championship Game last season. Last year, the Tide had a month off between the injury and their College Football Playoff semifinal against Oklahoma. This year, Tagovailoa sat out the Arkansas game and had the bye this past weekend to heal up. At most, he will have about three weeks of total rest. The concern is that as Alabama was prepping for Oklahoma last season, Tagovailoa said his ankle was "closer to 85 percent" than 100 percent. If he wasn't fully recovered after a month, isn't it too much to ask that he be 100 percent after three weeks this season? And If he isn't 100 percent for this game, how will that impact Alabama's offense?
Mac Jones didn't have a great performance against Tennessee when he was unexpectedly asked to step in. He played well against Arkansas when he had a week to prepare as the starter, but well, Arkansas stinks. There's a significant gap between Arkansas and LSU, and if the Tide have to rely on Jones against LSU, it's hard to imagine them pulling off the win.
2. Can the Tide get pressure on Joe Burrow? Saban's Alabama dynasty has been built on defense. At least, it had been for a long time. That hasn't been the case the last couple of years, which isn't to say the Alabama defense hasn't been good. It has been, it's just not been up to the standard of Saban's original Alabama defenses. That was evident last season when Trevor Lawrence and Clemson tore it to shreds, and there'd been signs of it the week before when Kyler Murray and Oklahoma figured it out after a slow start.
This year Alabama's defense is allowing only 15.3 points per game, but it hasn't played an offense like LSU. Auburn was the first defense to slow the Tigers down, and they did so by getting pressure on Burrow. Of course, getting pressure in the backfield is something Auburn has done well all season. That's not the case with this Alabama defense. The Tide's sack rate of 6.74 percent ranks 54th nationally. It's tackle for loss rate of 9.04 percent ranks 60th. Alabama's defense has been difficult to score on, but if it doesn't pressure Burrow, it'll be just as difficult to stop LSU from scoring.
3. Can Alabama run the ball against this LSU defense? On the season, Alabama is averaging 5.03 yards per carry in the run game. That ranks fifth in the SEC and 31st nationally. It's not great, but it isn't bad. Those numbers are skewed a bit by Alabama's nonconference slate, though. In three nonconference games, the Tide averaged 5.86 yards per carry. In their five SEC games, that number has dropped to 4.46. That ranks seventh in the SEC. On the flip side, LSU's run defense ranks 13th nationally, allowing 2.95 yards per carry. That ranks second in the SEC, and against SEC teams, the Tigers allow only 3.63 yards per carry, which is third in the conference. If we're to assume that Tagovailoa isn't 100 percent for this game, Alabama can help him out by lessening his load in the run game. But will it be able to do that successfully?
1. How well will the Tigers deal with the pressure? LSU is No. 1 in the AP Top 25. When the College Football Playoff Rankings are released Tuesday night, there's a strong chance it will be No. 1 there as well. People respect it, but you know what? None of anything that LSU has done in 2019 will matter if the Tigers don't beat Alabama. That's what LSU is judged on. It's what Les Miles was judged on even though he won a national title, and Miles' inability to beat Alabama in the latter half of his tenure is why he was fired. If Orgeron isn't able to beat Alabama, it will result in his dismissal someday too.
Alabama has won eight straight against the Tigers by an average of 15 points per game. LSU hasn't scored more than 17 points in a game against Alabama since a 24-21 win in 2010. Alabama has been its bogeyman. It is the monster hiding under its bed, keeping it up at night. If LSU is going to overcome the Tide, it has to get over the mental hurdle first. A quick start would be ideal, but if LSU falls behind early, how will it respond?
2. Can the LSU secondary slow down Alabama's wide receivers? Tagovailoa gets so much attention when we talk about the Alabama offense and for good reason. He's getting a lot of attention leading up to this game because of his ankle, but you know what? Alabama's receivers are freaking good! The matchup between Alabama's wideouts (Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Henry Ruggs) and the LSU secondary (Grant Delpit, Kristian Fulton, Derek Stingley, JaCoby Stevens) will go a long way to deciding the winner in this game. Nobody has been able to stop Alabama's receivers yet, but Alabama has not faced a secondary like LSU's, either. Between these Alabama receivers and the LSU secondary, we could be watching four or five (or maybe more!) future first-round NFL Draft picks.
3. Can the Tigers win the turnover battle? Earlier, I mentioned that Alabama's defense hasn't been great at disrupting opposing offenses when it comes to getting tackles for a loss or sacks. It's great at getting opponents to turn the ball over, however. The Tide have 18 takeaways on the season, which ties them for the most in the SEC and eighth nationally. On the other side, there's an LSU offense that has turned the ball over only eight times this season, which ranks 13th nationally. It's a cliche, but cliches often become cliches for a reason. If LSU is going to go on the road and beat Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium, it can't afford to be giving the football away.
On the flip side, can LSU's defense force Alabama to turn the ball over? Because Alabama doesn't do that a lot, either! The Tide offense has turned the ball over five times this season. Only three teams in the country have turned it over less. The Tigers will need to take care of the ball and find ways to make sure Alabama doesn't if it's going to get the crimson monkey off its back.