Five hyper-specific predictions for Alabama-LSU II.
• Both offenses will go long early. Make no mistake: These are still tightly wound, run-first outfits perfectly comfortable with the idea of letting their defenses alternate sleeper holds for 60 minutes if necessary, and in that kind of game any major mistake could be the beginning of the end. But the offenses are better than that 9-6 score reflected — especially Alabama's, which moved the ball fairly in the first half in November — and both will bank on playing against type in search of a little initiative before settling into the slugfest everyone expects.
• At least one trick play will massively backfire. Alabama's seen this scene before, on a fake punt that set up Texas' first scoring drive back in the 2009-10 title game. That gaffe eventually worked out for the Tide; Marquis Maze's end-around pass in the first game did not, resulting in a goal line interception that turned the momentum permanently toward LSU. The Tigers have a history under Les Miles of faking punts and field goals in any and all situations, among other risky tricks, as Alabama knows well. In this one, my suggestion is they get it out of their system early.
• Trent Richardson will be Alabama's leading receiver. Crimson Tide wideouts have been sounding pretty confident about their chances against LSU's All-American corners, Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne, but it was 'Bama's All-American workhorse who did the most damage in November — most notably on a 39-yard catch-and-run out of the backfield that set up the first successful field goal of the game.
Richardson finished the night with five catches for 80 yards, the second-best receiving effort of his career, and 169 total yards from scrimmage, the second-best number by an individual player against LSU's defense all season. If the Tide can't beat the Tigers' corners, they can create and exploit a mismatch or two for their headliner against LSU linebackers.
• LSU will run a ton of option. The biggest difference on either side since Nov. 5 is the reemergence of Jordan Jefferson as LSU's full-time starter at quarterback, which has coincided with the reemergence of the speed option in the Tigers' playbook. It probably doesn't mean anything that Alabama had by far its worst defensive game of the season (on paper, anyway) against a committed triple-option team, Georgia Southern, and even it did, attempting to incorporate a true triple-option package in a few weeks would cause a lot more problems for LSU's offense that it would for Alabama's defense. The Tigers will repeatedly test the Tide on the edge, though, if for no other reason than nothing else in the playbook worked the last time. So why not?
• LSU will win the game on special teams. In almost every respect, these teams are mirror images: Limited at quarterback, committed to plowing big, blue-chip backs into the line of scrimmage, consistently dominant on defense. They're identical — except for the special teams, which supplied LSU with the razor-thin edge it needed to get out of Tuscaloosa with a win two months ago and stands as the only clear advantage for either team coming into tonight.
In November, the difference was field goal kicking; LSU converted its kicks, Alabama did not. This time, it's going to come down to the Tigers' explosive return game, which has consistently bailed them out of trouble via big kickoff and punt returns. True, there was hardly a peep out of Tyrann Mathieu the first time around — not in a good way, anyway — but in his case, that only makes it more likely for lightning to strike the second time.