BATON ROUGE - In what has quickly become one of the fiercest and most meaningful rivalries in college football over the past decade, LSU and Alabama will meet for the third time in less than a year on Saturday in Tiger Stadium in a game that will once again go a long way in shaping the national championship landscape.
Last year, LSU and Alabama split two games with the Tigers winning, 9-6 in overtime, in Tuscaloosa during the regular season, while the Crimson Tide claimed the BCS national title with a 21-0 victory in New Orleans. For the first time in the history of the series, this year's game will feature one team who is the reigning SEC Champion against a team who is the reigning national champion.
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In a scene that is expected to resemble something like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, LSU and Alabama will square off at 7 p.m. in Tiger Stadium in a game that will be televised to a national audience on CBS. It will easily be the most-viewed college football game this year as Alabama enters the game ranked No.1 in the nation, while LSU is No. 5.
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Alabama, which has not trailed this year on its way to winning every game by at least 19 points, is 8-0 overall and 5-0 in league play. The Tigers are 7-1 overall and 3-1 in conference action. The winner of the LSU-Alabama game has gone on to play in the SEC Championship Game five of the past seven years. Since the start of the 2011 season, LSU and Alabama have combined to go 40-3 overall.
"This game has the potential to have an environment that's pretty special," LSU coach Les Miles said. "Last time they were here, that environment existed. We'll look forward to that environment and playing in Tiger Stadium. I think there will be a charged atmosphere; there's something magical about that stadium on a Saturday night when those lights come. I can't wait to lead my team onto the field on Saturday night."
Night games, in particular those that start after dark on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium have been special for LSU under Miles as the Tigers are 36-1 in those games. The only Saturday night home loss for LSU under Miles came in 2009 when top-ranked Florida beat the Tigers, 13-3.
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That game against Florida also happened to be the last time LSU lost a game in Tiger Stadium as the Tigers have reeled off a school-record 22-straight wins set that defeat to Florida in 2009. The 22-game winning streak is the longest current streak in college football.
Against the Crimson Tide, the Tigers will face perhaps the top all-around defense in college football as Alabama is allowing just 8.1 points and 203.1 total yards (57.3 rushing, 145.9 passing) per game.
The Tigers will counter with an offense that is averaging 31.0 points and 385.8 total yards per game (208.4 rushing, 177.4 passing). Two keys for LSU success having success running the football as the Tigers are 31-2 under Miles when having a 100-yard rusher and they are 36-2 under Miles when scoring at least 20 points.
Offensively, the Tigers are expected to start their same offensive line combination for the third-straight game. LSU will counter Alabama's defense with a group of running backs that have combined to rush for 1,354 yards and 14 touchdowns. Sophomore Kenny Hilliard leads the list with 420 yards and six touchdowns, but true freshman Jeremy Hill has been the Tigers' leading rusher in each of the past two games. Hill had 124 yards and two TDs in the win over South Carolina and then followed that with 127 yards and a score in the victory over Texas A&M. Hill scored what proved to be the game-winning TDs on runs of 50 yards against the Gamecocks and 47 yards against the Aggies.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has connected on 112-of-198 passes for 1,419 yards and seven scores with his top targets being a pair of sophomores in Odell Beckham Jr. (26 rec., 420 yards, 2 TDs) and Jarvis Landry (23 rec., 216 yards, 1 TD).
When the Crimson Tide has the ball, the Tigers will have to defend the most proficient quarterback in the SEC in AJ McCarron, who has thrown 18 touchdowns with no interceptions this year. McCarron will be joined in the backfield by T.J. Yeldon (649 yards, 7 TDs) and Eddy Lacy (596 yards, 7 TDs).
Wide receiver Amari Cooper is one of the top receivers in the SEC with 32 receptions for 472 yards and five scores.
The Tigers will defend the Alabama offensive attack with a defense that is allowing just 14 points and 243.4 yards per game (94.9 rushing, 148.5 passing).
In its last eight quarters, plus one overtime period against the Crimson Tide, LSU's defense has limited Alabama to just one touchdown and seven field goals.
Linebacker Kevin Minter is the leader of the LSU defense with 75 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. Minter, who has twice been named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week, is coming off his best overall game against Texas A&M with 12 tackles, one sack, one interception, one pass breakup and two quarterback hurries in the 24-19 LSU win.
Minter is joined by one of the best defensive lines in college football with pre-season All-America defensive ends in Sam Montgomery (23 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks) and Barkevious Mingo (23 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks). Lavar Edwards (18 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks), Bennie Logan (21 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) and Anthony Johnson (24 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) are also key contributors up front for the Tigers.
In the secondary, junior Eric Reid is among the best safeties in the nation with 50 tackles and a pair of interceptions this year.
"We've had a really good week of preparation," Miles said. "Games like this are the reason you come to LSU and to play in the SEC. It should be a great night in Tiger Stadium."