Though No. 1 Alabama has won the last five meetings against No. 15 LSU, the series between the two teams has been generally close since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
The margin of victory was seven points or less in six of the last 10 meetings, including three overtime games. The Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) and Tigers (5-2, 3-1) will meet for the 81st time at 7 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
To find out more about Alabama, we bring you our Pick 6 series – a Q&A with a beat writer covering LSU’s opponent – for another week. Aaron Suttles, who covers the Crimson Tide for The Tuscaloosa News, kindly joined us to answer our questions about Saban’s squad.
1.) The numbers Alabama is putting up this season are staggering. In your mind, how does this Nick Saban team compare to others that have won championships?
I think this year's defense, while completely different looking from years past, is the most able to compete against the (hurry-up, no-huddle) teams that at times gave Saban's defense trouble. How it will hold up against LSU, now that's it's relatively smaller, remains to be seen. It's by far the most athletic of Saban's 10 UA defenses.
2.) Safety and punt returner Eddie Jackson’s season-ending leg injury appears to be a huge loss. How do you think he will be replaced at both positions?
It's a great question and Saban isn't exactly saying right now. My guess is that true freshman Trevon Diggs will get the first opportunity at returning kicks. Xavian Marks actually has one of the Tide's non-offensive touchdowns this season on a punt return, but he's a smaller guy and has earned Saban's ire by not fielding a couple of punts and losing field position.
On defense, I think they are serious about moving Minkah Fitzpatrick, who normally plays the Star defensive back in the nickel, to safety and putting Tony Brown in at the Star. Fitzpatrick is one of the best DBs on the team and he's smart too. His athleticism, while not the same as Jackson's, would give the secondary a more versatile safety.
3.) It doesn’t seem like Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin ask freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts to do much in the passing game. Yet, the offense leads the SEC in scoring. What impresses you about what Hurts has done thus far?
It seems that way because they haven't asked him to do a lot. So far it's been asking him to read one side of the filed from high to low and then take off out of the pocket. The biggest thing Hurts has brought so far is his ability to run the ball. He leads the team in rushing attempts and rushing touchdowns and is second on the team in rushing yards. He has struggled to find consistency in the downfield passing game, which is why Calvin Ridley's numbers have fallen off from a season ago. They don't ask Hurts to read the middle of the field very often.
For the most part he's limited his turnovers and that's something the coaching staff will stress this week. Far and away Hurts' most impressive characteristic is you can't rattle him. He has remarkable poise for someone his age and he's held up on the road so far this year. With all due respect, though, there is a difference between Ole Miss/Arkansas on the road and in Saturday night in Death Valley.
4.) Alabama hasn’t missed a beat with Damien Harris replacing former Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry at running back. What does he bring to the offense that makes it more dynamic?
Harris doesn't look like the same back from a season ago. He's developed a patience and an ability to press the hole that just wasn't there his freshman season. He has excellent vision and nice footwork to move laterally when needed. He's also probably a little stronger than given credit for too. He's not slow, but he's not the fastest of guys and he's been caught from behind a few times this season.
The quickest (and eventually I think he'll the best overall back on the team) is Josh Jacobs. Given that he's a freshman, I'm not sure how many carries he'll get against LSU, but he's a name to watch out for Saturday.
5.) Defensive end Jonathan Allen’s athleticism is certainly impressive, and some believe he should be a legitimate Heisman candidate. But he’s just one of a few good pass rushers on this team, which leads the country in sacks. What makes the defensive line special?
The experience. Every guy who is making an impact this season played a lot of snaps last season. Jonathan Allen's hands are his best weapons. Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson are also excellent from the outside linebacker position in rushing the passer. They come at you in waves. Also this season Jeremy Pruitt brings more aggressiveness to the play calling. Pruitt is not afraid to blitz and put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.
6.) We’ve seen teams put up some points on the Alabama defense, but it has still been dominant for large stretches of games. Does this team have a true weakness?
Through eight games Alabama's biggest weakness has been an accurate quarterback. If a quarterback can hang in and take a little bit of a beating, he can make plays if he's accurate. For example, look at what Austin Allen did. Sure it took him 48 attempts to do it and he took as bad of a beating as I've seen this season, but he made some plays through the air.