Who has the edge when Alabama runs?
Today, we begin our six-part position breakdown of Monday’s BCS national championship game.
Part 1 is a look at Alabama’s rush offense. Part 2 will focus on LSU’s rush offense, while Part 3 will be on Alabama’s passing attack, Part 4 on LSU’s passing attack, Part 5 on the Tide’s and Tigers’ special teams and Part 6 on the two coaching staffs.
Alabama has been about 30 yards per game better on the ground this season compared to 2010. The Tide has run the ball effectively in every game but one – the Nov. 5 loss to LSU.
Alabama has scored 33 rushing TDs and has at least one in every game but one and at least three in six games. The one game without a rushing TD was the loss to LSU.
There is nothing fancy about the Tide’s rushing attack. They prefer a pro set and like to get their tailbacks running downhill. Alabama makes frequent use of two-tight end sets in an effort to play smashmouth football.
Junior TB Trent Richardson, who likely will be playing his final college game in the national title showdown, is a solidly built 5-foot-11, 224-pounder. He is tough to bring down and seems to relish the contact that comes from running between the tackles. But Richardson also has the speed to turn the corner and the ability to find a crease and burst past the linebackers on a run up the middle. He is fourth nationally at 131.9 yards per game and has 20 rushing TDs; he has had seven games with multiple rushing touchdowns. He also is an adept receiver.
Backup TB Eddie Lacy, a Louisiana native, looks bulky, but has good speed. He, too, is comfortable running between the tackles. Lacy has rushed for 631 yards and seven TDs despite missing one game and being hampered by nagging injuries in a few others. While Lacy has been an effective No. 2 guy, the falloff after Richardson is a big one.
Alabama’s line mashes people. Junior LT Barrett Jones is the standout, even though he is best-suited to play guard, the position where he starred in his first two seasons. While Jones received All-America honors, LG Chance Warmack garnered all-league attention, making the left side the best side for the Tide. C William Vlachos is a squatty guy (6-1/294) in the middle, and though he usually gets good leverage, he can be overpowered at times. G Anthony Steen and massive T D.J. Fluker (6-6/335) man the right side.
TEs Michael Williams and Brad Smelley, whose brother, Chris, was a quarterback at South Carolina, play because of their blocking ability. Williams is a big guy (6-6/269) who basically is an extra lineman; Smelley is a lot smaller (6-3/229) but is an effective blocker nonetheless.
LSU’s front was effective in slowing down the Tide’s rushing attack in the 9-6 regular-season victory. LB Ryan Baker had one of his best games of the season with eight tackles, and Ts Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan did an excellent job of mucking up the works in the middle of the line.
Because defensive coordinator John Chavis has a ton of trust in his corners, look for LSU to creep a safety near the line of scrimmage. FS Eric Reid and SS Brandon Taylor are willing and able in run support, and CB Tyrann Mathieu is another defensive back who isn’t afraid to throw his body into the fray against opposing running backs.
LSU had six tackles for loss in the regular-season meeting, and three of them came from defensive backs.
Alabama managed just 96 rushing yards against LSU, with Richardson providing 89 of them. Almost half his yards (42) came on two runs – an 18-yarder on his first carry of the game in the first quarter and a 24-yarder in the fourth. Lacy finished with 19 yards on five carries; he had a 20-yarder on his first carry of the game, late in the first quarter. While the tailbacks combined for 108 yards, two sacks of A.J. McCarron for minus-6 yards and a run of minus-6 yards by WR Marquis Maze took Alabama’s rushing total below 100.
The verdict: Richardson is going to have some success, but to expect the Tide to rush for even 150 yards is foolish. If the Tide does reach that plateau, it wins the national title. The advantage here goes to LSU’s rush defense.
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