'Bama-LSU to be decided by best offensive, defensive lines in nation
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
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
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.
"It's whoever bends and folds first."
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
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.
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