LSU at Alabama: Why depth on defensive lines could decide the outcome _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU defensive end Arden Key celebrates a defensive stop against Florida on Oct. 17 in Tiger Stadium.

Ross Dellenger’s Next Level: The difference in defensive lines could decide the outcome

The spotlight ahead of the showdown between LSU and Alabama has pointed, mostly, toward starting players — at least for the Tigers.

You hear about linebackers Kendell Beckwith and Deion Jones, not reserves Duke Riley and Donnie Alexander. You hear about defensive tackle Davon Godchaux and end Lewis Neal, not Frank Herron and Sione Teuhema.

For Alabama, it’s different. You hear about defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, and you hear, too, about his backup, D.J. Pettway. You hear about starting linebacker Denzel Devall, and, yes, you hear about his backup, Ryan Anderson.

The depth on the defensive front of both LSU and Alabama might be the most striking difference between these two teams.

Bama has depth. LSU is thin.

The Tide rotates more than 12 players regularly in its 3-4 front seven. LSU? About seven or eight. The Tigers most often play a 4-2 nickel, and they have one player who regularly rotates in big games. That’s DE Arden Key or Tashawn Bower, depending on who starts.

Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore do some rotating, but their snaps are limited against stiff competition. For instance, against Florida, the two played in only a couple of drives. Beckwith and Jones have both played nearly every single snap of each competitive game this season.

Meanwhile, Bama’s Pettway has four tackles for loss, two sacks and 12 tackles, and Anderson has rolled up two sacks, 17 tackles and four QB hurries — both as rotating reserves.

Could this be a determining factor in the showdown Saturday? Sure could. We’ve seen LSU’s front tire late in games because of exhaustion.

Of all the storylines in this one — Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry, Brandon Harris — it’s the backup defensive players keeping the starters fresh who might decide it.

Scott Rabalais’ Four Downs

1. ’Big boy football’

Les Miles once called the LSU-Alabama game “big boy football,” and it is. But we want to focus on big plays here — making them and preventing them. Both teams will lean heavily on the run. But the game could be decided by which quarterback, Brandon Harris or Jake Coker, connects on more passes of 20 yards or more.

2. Keeping it clean

Both teams have plus turnover margins: LSU plus-1.0, Bama plus-0.4. The difference is how they get there. LSU has forced just nine turnovers but has only lost two, tied for fewest in the FBS. Bama has forced 17 but lost 14. Bama’s defense is opportunistic — see three pick-sixes at Texas A&M. LSU can’t get sloppy now.

3. He is (the) man

Fair or not, this game is probably a referendum on Leonard Fournette’s Heisman Trophy candidacy. If he rushes for 150 yards with a “Heisman moment” like trucking a defender en route to the end zone, he may lock it up. Struggle for 63 yards on 31 carries and he could lose his lead, especially if Bama’s Derrick Henry outgains him.

4. With an ace kicker

Edge to Alabama in net punting, though not as much as you’d think: 35.9 YPP to 33.1. Edge to LSU in field-goal kicking as Trent Domingue is 7 for 7 and Bama’s Adam Griffith is 10 for 16. Griffith has made five straight but nothing over 40 yards this season. If it comes down to a kick, Domingue may channel his inner Drew Alleman.