Who has the edge when LSU runs?
Today, we continue 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.
LSU coach Les Miles is a former offensive lineman for Bo Schembechler, so is it any surprise that Miles wants to win by running the ball and playing stout defense? His team has done both well this season.
LSU doesn’t have any game-breakers at tailback, but the Tigers do go four-deep at the position and all four can pound foes between the tackles.
Sophomore Spencer Ware, a high school quarterback in Ohio, is the starter, but sophomore Michael Ford is the leading rusher. That duo has combined for 1,455 yards and 15 touchdowns. While neither is a burner, each has the speed to get around the corner and also the strength to run over linebackers and defensive backs.
Third-teamer Alfred Blue is the biggest back (6 feet 2/215 pounds) and also has the highest per-carry average at 6.9 yards, He has scored seven rushing TDs. True freshman Kenny Hilliard was supposed to redshirt, but ended up playing in every game and rushing for 320 yards and eight TDs. He might be the most physical of the quartet.
Again, none of these guys scares anybody with his speed. But each is a physical, punishing runner, and because LSU plays so many tailbacks, each always seems fresh and able to run over defenders.
QB Jordan Jefferson is another running threat; he is adept at running the option and also is dangerous as a scrambler. He is a long strider who eats up chunks of yards with two or three steps.
FBs James Stampley and J.C. Copeland can be devastating blockers, especially Copeland, a 6-1, 280-pounder. But they had just four carries between them.
There is no true standout on the line, but the group works well together. LG Will Blackwell and RT Alex Hurst are the best linemen. Hurst (6-6/340) teams with RG Josh Williford (6-7/324) to give the Tigers a ton of size (well, not really a ton, but …) on the right side. C P.J. Lonergan has the ability to do some damage when he pulls. Sophomore LT Chris Faulk arrived on campus as a highly touted defensive tackle, and should contend for All-America honors next season. Backup C/G T-Bob Hebert, whose dad, Bobby, was an NFL quarterback, also will see time.
LSU had its lowest rushing output of the season when it beat Alabama on Nov. 5, but the Tigers still rushed for 148 yards. The game against the Tide was one of just two in which the Tigers didn’t have a rushing TD.
While Alabama was relatively effective in shutting down the run, LSU still ran the ball 41 times. While Ware had the most carries (16), Ford had the most success, picking up 72 yards on just 11 carries, including a huge 15-yard run in OT to set up the game-winning field goal. Jefferson ran for 43 yards and should be an important component of the rushing attack in the title game.
While the 148 yards was LSU’s lowest rushing total of the season, it was the second-most rushing yards allowed by Alabama and 56 more than any other SEC team managed against the Tide.
LSU’s offensive line did a nice job controlling the line of scrimmage in the Nov. 5 showdown. LB Nico Johnson led the Tide with 11 tackles that day, and CB DeQuan Menzie was second with eight; it was the highest tackle total of the season for both. Indeed, the tackle total was more than 25 percent of Johnson’s production during the season (43 total tackles).
Alabama had five tackles for loss in the Nov. 5 game, but for just minus-8 yards.
The verdict: Alabama’s rush defense gets the nod here just because LSU isn’t going to come close to its per-game average of 215.2. But LSU did a nice job on the ground in the first matchup, and if the Tigers can get near 150 yards again, they will win. Jefferson gives the Tigers the ability to run the option, and you figure offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa will unveil that a few times in the first quarter. It also would help the Tigers’ cause if one of the backs – maybe Ford again? – can break off a few runs of 10-plus yards; they had three such runs in the first meeting.
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