At long last, Bama week has finally arrived and with LSU down one elite receiver in Terrace Marshall, it'll be imperative that the Tigers' remaining stars play at their very best to give the purple and gold a shot on Saturday.
Alabama enters as the No. 1 team in the country with one of the top passing and run offenses not just in the SEC but in the country. The improved play that's been shown out of the LSU defense the last two weeks will need to continue because if the Crimson Tide can hit on those explosive plays, LSU will be out of it by the second quarter.
Here are three players to pay close attention to this weekend:
Derek Stingley (CB)
This is a game the sophomore All-American cornerback has likely had circled in red pen since the beginning of the season. Last year, Stingley took the country by storm as one of the truly elite defensive players in college football.
But there was one game, Alabama, where Stingley struggled mightily and mostly in coverage against Crimson Tide receiver Devonta Smith. In that game, Smith recorded seven receptions for 213 yards and two touchdowns, one of the standout performances of his career.
While Stingley went on to be a consensus All-American in 2019, that was a performance he'd like to make amends for and will need to do so if LSU has a shot at keeping the Alabama offense subdued.
Stingley has battled through a couple of injuries this season yet has played at a very high level with four pass breakups and one forced fumble in six games. At the same time, Kellen Mond was really the first quarterback to target Stingley multiple times in a game and Stingley responded.
He should be ready for similar treatment from Alabama quarterback Mac Jones on Saturday, who will find any way possible to get Devonta Smith the ball.
"Derek's a competitor and he is the best defensive back in the country and going against another top talent is something Derek thrives off of," linebacker Jabril Cox said. "He's been waiting for this matchup and is ready to show everybody he's the top cornerback in the nation."
Arik Gilbert (TE)
If LSU’s offense hopes to have any chance against the Crimson Tide, it’ll need exemplary performances from its top weapons and the freshman tight end is without a doubt the Tigers best receiving option.
With the departure of Marshall, it wouldn’t be a bit surprising to see LSU split Gilbert out wide more. Most of Gilbert’s touches this year have been in the slot or when lined up at tight end but a shift to the “X” spot might create some mismatches on smaller Alabama defensive backs.
Orgeron has talked for weeks about how much more he wants to get Gilbert involved as he’s had a few games where the impact hasn’t been felt. He hasn’t reached the endzone since the Missouri game and with a 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame, that has got to change if this offense wants to reach its full potential.
It very well could be a committee approach as one or two players matching the production of Marshall would be tough to ask of any one player.
"I'm excited to see what they'll be able to do to step into that role that Terrace had been for us," center Liam Shanahan said.
Jabril Cox (LB)
Cox has proven in his short time with the program to be the reliable force in the middle of the defense. Though he hasn't come without his struggles, this past weekend, Cox did a great job in man coverage on Texas A&M's tight ends and even with running back Isaiah Spiller a few times as well.
One half of stopping the Alabama offense will be through the air, primarily Devonta Smith which will be Stingley's job. The other half will be trying to slow down one of the country's top runners in Alabama back Najee Harris.
Harris has toyed with opposing SEC defenses this season with his 1,137 scrimmage yards and 17 touchdowns and it'll be up to the Tigers' front six to slow him down. That starts with Cox, who very well could be a spotter on Harris throughout the evening to make sure the dynamic running back has eyes on him at all times.
"Our front six, as we continue to hone in on our gaps and be able to push through the middle, we'll be able to shut the run down," Cox said.