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What Do LSU Players, Ed Orgeron Feel Are the Keys to Keeping up With No. 1 Alabama?

Tigers-Tide matchup looks dramatically different than the battle in Tuscaloosa in 2019

This LSU-Alabama matchup couldn’t be more different from the one that took place a year ago. JaCoby Stevens, Derek Stingley, Cordale Flott, Glen Logan, Austin Deculus and Ed Ingram are the only players who had significant play time during the 2019 season.

Alabama on the other hand returns the foundation of its offense in Najee Harris and Devonta Smith, who combined for 403 all purpose yards and four touchdowns in the 46-41 loss.

It’ll be more important than ever for LSU to stick to and execute its gameplan on both sides of the ball.

It's a given that for the defense to have a chance at slowing down the three-headed monster of Mac Jones, Harris and Smith, the front seven will need to continue its strong play. The Tigers are coming off an outing that, outside of a few long runs, was largely able to keep Texas A&M running back Isaiah Spiller in check. 

That was a formidable offensive line the defense faced last week but Orgeron said this Alabama o-line is right up there with the best the unit has faced this season.

"They’re big, they’re physical. They’re fast off the football. They’re good zone, they’re good gap scheme. Obviously, Najee (Harris) helps them, but they all work in tandem together," Orgeron said. "They’re very well coached and they’re some really good players. They’re some NFL players up there, some potential first-round draft choices up there.”

The secondary has shown improvement in communication and execution in the recent games. Over the last two outings, LSU has held opponents to 2-for-26 on third down, which is a direct reflection of the defensive backs locking in on their man-to-man coverage. 

Sophomore cornerback Cordale Flott likely had his best outing of the season against Texas A&M and is playing with a confidence that wasn't there earlier in the season or even as a freshman, when he received plenty of playing time.

"We started to get together more in our preparation, coming together as a defense and figuring out what was the problem," Flott said of the improvements made against the Aggies. "We know this is gonna be a big challenge for us with the receivers we're gonna face. We've been preparing all week and feel like we're ready."

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With cornerback Derek Stingley expected to be covering Smith, limiting the production of Harris and Smith will only be the beginning for the Tigers' success. 

The other half of the equation starts with how well the LSU offensive line can protect the freshmen quarterbacks and just how much progress those quarterbacks can make without Terrace Marshall, the team’s most lethal offensive weapon. Receiver Jaray Jenkins said that both freshmen quarterbacks have shown maturity beyond their years after suffering the most recent loss to the Aggies. 

"They were back in the film room seeing what they messed up on," Jenkins said. "We've gotta lift them up, they're freshmen because they're the leaders of the offense. I feel like they're ready for the moment like they always are.

"Probably both of them will play," Orgeron added Wednesday. "The one thing I wanted to give them confidence on was it's about all 11, it's about all 11 players protecting the football. I told them I can't put anything on the young quarterbacks, we gotta protect them better."

Protection. That's the word that keeps being mentioned by players and coaches this week after a rough outing against the Aggies where the offensive line was pushed around. Center Liam Shanahan said a lack of adjusting to the pressure Texas A&M brought was the primary reason the Tigers offense could never get anything going.

Whether it was Finley or Johnson under center, both players were scrambling to make plays and it just never worked out. To combat issues, running backs Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery combined for just 31 yards on the ground in the loss, putting more pressure on the freshmen quarterbacks.

The protection up front needs to be better and center Liam Shanahan said that there are differences in the way Texas A&M and Alabama will try to get after Finley and Johnson.

"They're both great units, it's going to be another big challenge, it's a little bit different," Shanahan said. "Based off of what I watched, Texas A&M moves a little bit more whereas Alabama likes to play a little more base defense, play a little more straight up."

Because Alabama has superior athletes, they can afford to only rush four guys whereas the Aggies were bringing six and LSU wasn't able to pick up the protections in time. 

This will be an important week for this team. A blowout loss is the expectation but if the Tigers can just prove they can keep up with Alabama for a half or even three quarters, it will have been a successful day at the office.