Five Takes From the Other Side: LSU

Alabama Athletics
Christopher Walsh

You've got questions? We try and get you the answers. 

With Alabama set to host LSU on Saturday (2:30 p.m., CT, CBS), there's a lot of unknowns with the Tigers for those who haven't been watching them closely this season. 

The offense and play-calling have dramatically changes, while the defense has been a little more vulnerable from what Crimson Tide fans are accustomed. 

Here to shed some light on what to expect is Glen West from the Sports Illustrated LSU site, answering five big questions heading into the last showdown between the SEC powers:

1. Joe Burrow is obviously having a huge season, but how much of his improvement is scheme and how much is just his improving and being more comfortable with his receivers?

Coach Ed Orgeron has called Joe Burrow a top-five LSU recruit of all time, mainly for the seamless transition the senior has made to the spread offense. The stats alone are already on pace or broken every single-season school record and the hiring of Joe Brady as passing game coordinator is probably one of the best hires at LSU in recent memory.

But Burrow’s improvement can’t just be chalked up to scheme. After struggling with his accuracy in 2018, that was an area he attacked in the offseason and it’s paying dividends. Completing nearly 79% of his passes in 2019, Burrow isn’t just dinking and dunking to his receivers, he’s throwing deep balls with unparalleled accuracy. He’s fitting throws into tight windows, he’s spreading the ball around and perhaps even more important, he’s being protected by his offensive line.

His receivers, mainly Terrace Marshall and Ja’Marr Chase made great strides in the offseason as the three worked together practically every day working on routes and timing.

2. How does LSU manage to get a significant pass rush without linebacker Michael Divinity?

The loss of Divinity, while tough, is not something the team will be overly worried about on the field. Divinity missed three games this season due to “coaches decisions” and recently made the switch from inside linebacker back to his original position at outside linebacker.

LSU doesn’t run a lot of two outside linebacker defensive schemes and with K’Lavon Chaisson there to handle a significant portion of the snaps, the loss of Divinity is only a hit to the depth at the position. Off the field, the loss of Divinity is a hit. The senior was viewed as one of the leaders of the defense and the players were genuinely sad during Monday’s availability talking about him no longer being on the team.

The group is confident it can continue to win without its leader in sacks in 2018 but the sting of him being gone is still fresh and may take some time to adjust in the leadership department.

3. What's been the key to the offense being so successful in the red zone?

Talent at the skills positions. Last season, Chase and Marshall were freshmen still adjusting to the speed of the game. In 2019, they along with Justin Jefferson, have become one of if not the best wide receiver trio in college football.

When you have three legit threats in the red zone, it makes it so difficult for the defense to key in on all three. Not to mention the use of Clyde Edwards-Helaire out of the backfield, who LSU has gone too many times as the final 20 yards approach.

The play calling of offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and Brady has been magnificent in the red zone though the offense did struggle in the Auburn game. Auburn dropped a bunch of linebackers and defensive backs into coverage on LSU, only blitzing three and sometimes four players at a time.

If Alabama thinks it can get pressure on Burrow by rushing only three or four, it may be tough on the passing game, which means a bigger role for Edwards-Helaire might be carved out, just like in the Auburn game where he ran for 136 yards on 26 carries.

4. We know what the official word is on Grant Delpit, but what's your take on his status and how much of an issue do you think his injury will be?

It’s an interesting case with Delpit as Orgeron said he’ll be fine for Saturday’s game while also saying he’d practice on Monday and Tuesday. Well, he wasn’t at practice either day [or Wednesday] so I do feel there is some concern about his status for Saturday.

As far as how much is injury could affect him Saturday, there’s just no way of knowing. I expect that, like Tua, if Delpit plays it won’t be at 100% which is concerning for the LSU secondary. Tackling in open space is a focus for LSU to prevent those slant routes from turning into big gains.

Tackling is also something Delpit has struggled with at times this season and if he’s favoring that ankle, Alabama could target him if he’s not 100%. Hopefully we’ll learn more as the week moves on.

5. Prediction and why:

Alabama 34, LSU 31

This is tough. If you’d asked me two weeks ago, I probably would’ve said LSU wins by a slight margin.

Now I’m thinking Alabama wins on a late field goal in a classic. While this will certainly not help LSU’s chances of getting into the College Football Playoff, it also wouldn't extinguish the Tigers, either. If Alabama loses on the other hand, its strength of schedule would probably keep it out of the playoff.

There has yet to be a College Football Playoff without the Crimson Tide so I’m really just playing a numbers game.

I think Joe Burrow and the offense will be able to move the ball on the Crimson Tide defense but that Alabama's offense is equally explosive. I’m expecting a lot of back-and-forth in the second half with whatever team getting the ball last coming away with a win. 

In Tuscaloosa, I think that team will be Alabama.

I’ve also gotten to the point when this game comes around that I’ll believe a Tigers win when I see it. The Tide just simply has had their number for the last eight years and until LSU can prove otherwise I can’t justify saying it will come away with a win.