Alabama center Barrett Jones knows that after a bye week, LSU's defensive line may throw a new wrinkle into the game plan for Saturday. That's to be expected for a showdown that could decide the winner of the SEC West. But Jones also knows the Tigers won't stray too far from their bread-and-butter. Defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Bennie Logan will move far too fast for men carrying three bills, occupying multiple blockers and allowing LSU's linebackers to make tackles. Meanwhile, defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo will try to beat Alabama's tackles off the edge and harass quarterback AJ McCarron into making mistakes.
Jones also knows what LSU won't do. They won't scrap their entire identity for some one-off gameplan designed to surprise the Crimson Tide and catch them off guard. That happens quite often these days. Alabama has adjusted quickly and destroyed all such opponents, but still, Tide players consider the practice annoying. LSU's defense won't do that for a simple reason. Why, with some of the nation's best players, would you change a scheme that already maximizes what those future pros do best?
"At the core, the thing we respect about LSU is that there really just aren't many teams these days that try to line up toe-to-toe with us," Alabama's Jones said. "They're not going to try to trick us, really. They know what we're going to do, and they know what they're going to do."
When Alabama's offensive linemen and LSU's defensive linemen embraced at the end of each meeting last year, they weren't simply being polite. Each group has a deep, abiding respect for the other. That's to be expected when each is probably the best in the nation at its respective job. So even though Montgomery spent two games barking in the ear of Jones, who played left tackle last season, Jones has nothing but compliments for LSU's No. 99. "I like him, by the way," Jones said. "He's a great guy. ... He's one of those guys who plays hard and not maliciously in any way. He just plays hard. I love that about him."
The feeling is mutual for Montgomery, who will resume his rivalry with Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker and introduce himself to left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, whose emergence allowed Tide coaches to move Jones to center. "These players are to be respected at all costs," Montgomery told The Times-Picayune this week. "It's one of those things where you have to rise to a different level to play with these guys."
Jones and the Tide offensive linemen spend most Thursday nights after their teammates head home squeezing in one final film session. There, the players try to identify body language cues and tells that might tip off a blitz or a stunt. For example, a defensive tackle who is about to twist may line up "light," with less weight on his hand so he quickly can move laterally once the ball is snapped. (Defensive tackles will look for the same thing in offensive guards. A guard who lines up lighter than usual is probably pulling.) This is especially critical against defensive linemen as good as LSU's. With LSU's speed up front, identifying a tell might give an offensive lineman the extra split second he needs to neutralize the rusher's speed advantage.
Alabama guards Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen will have one of the most important jobs Saturday. When the Alabama runs plays from the shotgun, Warmack and Steen must quickly and accurately communicate defensive line shifts to Jones, who will have his head down for much of the pre-snap action. If Jones doesn't receive proper warning and looks up to find the 304-pound Johnson coming from a different side, that probably will have a deleterious effect on the play. "Chance and Steen both have to help me when my head is down and tell me how things are changing," Jones said. "We've certainly had some spirited conversations when that hasn't happened."
Those spirited conversations have been fairly limited because Warmack and Steen are two of the best at their position. This week, Warmack said Steen, a junior, might be the best guard on the team. That's high praise, considering Warmack tops most NFL draft boards at guard. Of course, the guys on the other side of the ball are also held in fairly high esteem by NFL scouts.
"I can tell you this much," Johnson told The Times-Picayune. "Our defensive line is just as good."
Saturday, the best offensive line in the nation will face the best defense line. Tricks will be kept to a minimum. Yards will come at a premium. May the toughest line win.
• Texas A&M at Mississippi State: This game should answer once and for all whether the Bulldogs' 7-0 start was the work of an excellent team or the byproduct of a severely backloaded schedule. This week, Scooby Doo -- I mean, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel -- enjoyed exactly the kind of Halloween party you'd expect a guy called Johnny Football to enjoy. If you're expecting a prediction that this sort of tomfoolery will lead to diminished returns on the field, look elsewhere. College is a wonderful place, and we should begrudge no one his right to dress as a perpetually hungry, easily frightened, mystery-solving dog for the purpose of chatting up scantily clad ladies. Ruh roh, Bulldogs. Here comes Johnny Football.
• Georgia Tech at Maryland: This game became a must-see this week when, after losing a fourth quarterback to a season-ending injury, Maryland coach Randy Edsall announced that freshman linebacker Shawn Petty would start at quarterback against the Yellow Jackets. It hasn't been that long since Petty played the position. He also played quarterback at Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt, Md. Still, Petty only switched to offense for the Terrapins two weeks ago. I'll be tuning in just to see a quarterback rocking No. 31.
• TCU at West Virginia: Remember when West Virginia was a top-five team? It was only three weeks ago, but it feels like forever. The Mountaineers must play better defense if they hope to stop the bleeding and begin climbing back up the polls.
• Ole Miss at Georgia: Want to know the name of the SEC coach of the year? It's Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss, who took over a depleted roster that had very little business playing in the SEC and made his players believe. Now, the Rebels are one win away from bowl eligibility. A lot of people in the vicinity of Gainesville, Fla., would be thrilled if that win came this week, because it would give Florida the SEC title. But don't count on Georgia to backslide. The Bulldogs have played a few sloppy games, but now they have their goal within reach. All they have to do is beat the Rebels and Auburn to win the East.
• Texas at Texas Tech: Texas coach Mack Brown called out defensive coordinator Manny Diaz this week, criticizing Diaz for playing two freshman linebackers on the play when Kansas back James Sims broke free for a 64-yard touchdown. Burnt Orange Nation has a full recap of the festivities, but the bottom line is things are not well on the 40 Acres. Diaz's defense is not getting the job done, which is stunning considering how good Diaz's defenses have been in other years. Brown has decided to exert more control over the defense. That isn't his preferred role -- he's a CEO whose specialization is on offense -- but if somebody doesn't shore up the defense, they might all be seeking new jobs. Keeping it simple late in the game worked against Kansas, but that was Kansas. Will it work against quarterback Seth Doege and the Raiders, who have torched everyone except Oklahoma and Kansas State?
• Oregon at USC: Though their chosen styles of winning are different, Oregon's Chip Kelly and Alabama's Nick Saban have a lot in common. "Win the Day" and "The Process" are essentially the same formulas, and each coach has the uncanny ability to make his players play against an impossible standard rather than against that week's opponent. That results in remarkable consistency. Since Kelly took over, Oregon has not lost to inferior teams. It usually isn't even close. Oregon will be the superior team in the Coliseum Saturday. The only surprise will be if USC keeps it close.
• Oklahoma State at Kansas State: You've heard a lot about Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron's streak of pass attempts without an interception this week. Here's an equally amazing stat: Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein has yet to commit a turnover in Big 12 play. He has thrown zero interceptions in 106 pass attempts. That isn't terribly unusual, but add in the fact that Klein also has 76 rushing attempts -- many between the tackles -- in conference play without a fumble, and that is one extremely responsible quarterback.
• Arizona at UCLA: The winner of this game can win the Pac-12 South title by winning out. The Bruins are going dark for this one, but they'll end up feeling (navy) blue if they don't slow down Arizona quarterback Matt Scott, who threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 100 yards and a touchdown in last week's win against USC.
"It's whoever bends and folds first."
-- Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, explaining the very painful manner in which the Alabama-LSU game will be lost by one of the teams.
Randy wasn't being that melodramatic in that video posted at the top of this story. If LSU wins Saturday, there is a very real chance the SEC could be shut out of the BCS title game. A one-loss SEC champ probably would be the first in line to make the game absent two undefeated teams, but Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame are playing so well right now that there is a very real possibility that an LSU win could mean the first BCS title game without an SEC participant since the Texas-USC Rose Bowl on Jan. 4, 2006.
The helmets will fit a little differently for several dozen Minnesota players after they and their fellow Golden Gophers athletes shaved their heads this week to raise money for cancer research and show support for Minnesota receiver Connor Cosgrove, who is fighting leukemia. The group included Gophers linebacker Mike Rallis, who hadn't cut his hair in four years. It also included women's volleyball setter Mia Tabberson, who chronicled her shave on YouTube. For those who want to help but can't bear the clippers, you can give to the St. Baldrick's Foundation by following this link.
I often wonder what kind of hoarder keeps '80s football videos on VHS for years and then goes to the trouble of uploading those videos to YouTube. Bless that hoarder for creating one of the all-time great time sucks.
5. The Major Harris Highlight Reel: Now, we expect to see ultra-athletic quarterbacks who run like tailbacks but can still throw. In the late '80s, Harris was revolutionary.
4. The 1984 All-America Team: The widemouth mesh jerseys. The massive neck rolls. A young Jack Del Rio. The only things more dated than the uniforms are Bob Hope's jokes.
3. 1987 Miami-Florida State Game Break: Sometimes, the commercials are better than the football. Scroll to the 1:10 mark to learn about the Radio Shack portable cellular telephone that will soon make Zack Morris the coolest kid at Bayside High.
2. The 1981 Clemson Recruiting Video: Son, listen to this groovy bass line and marvel at our recreation room. After watching this, you're signing.
1. College Football '83: The Tradition Continues: If I had to pick a favorite of the six parts, it's part two. There's a Commodore 64 commercial, Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice questioning the ACC coaches' predictions, current USC athletic director Pat Haden interviewing a mustachioed Boomer Esiason of Maryland and Broadway Ben Bennett of Duke.
If you want to do the tomahawk chop outside of Tallahassee, stop by Ruffino's in Baton Rouge, where -- on occasion -- you can order a 64-ounce, bone-in tomahawk ribeye. Thursday night was one such occasion. So...much...beef, but I powered through. Here's the before shot. Here's the after. I was tempted to take the bone home and mount it on my office wall, but instead I gave it to my waitress, who promised to take it home to what had to be the luckiest Lab-Doberman mix in America.