During LSU’s three-game winning streak, the run-pass ratio for the Tigers offense has been skewed — perhaps more than ever — thanks to their deep stable of tailbacks and their opponents’ inability to stop them.
Over a three-game stretch that saw No. 14 LSU defeat Florida, Kentucky and Ole Miss, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has kept the ball on the ground 74.6 percent of the time with 156 running plays to just 53 passes.
But even Tigers coach Les Miles believes that strategy may have to change Saturday night when his team hosts No. 4 Alabama, which ranks second in the nation against the run with an aggressive and stingy front seven.
“We’re always searching for balance, and I think there’s an opportunity to achieve that some in this game,” Miles said at his weekly news luncheon Monday. “I think you’ll see, against quality opponents, your opportunity to be more balanced is certainly something that is required.”
Considering it’s part of his coaching DNA, Miles would love to keep pounding the football the way LSU has done in the past three games, when the Tigers averaged 254.0 yards per game and a healthy 4.9 yards per attempt.
That could be extremely difficult to duplicate against an Alabama defense that has yielded a scant 78.1 rushing yards a game — second nationally behind Penn State’s 77.1 yards — and just 2.7 yards per carry.
In eight games, the Crimson Tide, which averages 302.3 pounds per man across its three-man defensive front with its four linebackers averaging 257.5 pounds, has allowed two rushing touchdowns.
“Their defensive front is just solid,” Miles said. “They’re big and strong and fast, and they’re seldom out of position. They’re just a very quality, quality defense.”
Especially against the run, which means LSU may have to look to the air and rely some on quarterback Anthony Jennings and his receivers if Alabama clamps down on tailbacks Leonard Fournette, Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard and Darrel Williams.
“It’s a pretty good defense. It’s an Alabama defense,” LSU center Elliott Porter said. “Traditionally, through the years, they’ve had a pretty good defense … a solid defense.
“They have some bigger guys, especially in the front seven. We just have to do what we have to do to win. That’s how you have to look at it: Any cracks, any seams you can get is great.”
LSU, with 99 completions on the season, is the only Southeastern Conference team to have fewer than 100 catches.
“We have to get something going in the passing game,” said wide receiver Travin Dural, who leads the team in catches (27), receiving yards (676) and touchdown receptions (7).
“Every game we try to establish the pass. That way, the running backs don’t have to feel like the whole game is on their shoulders.”
While the passing game has been the source of much consternation for LSU fans, Miles, Porter and left guard Vadal Alexander said they’re confident they can get the job done, even though Jennings has just 25 completions in his past three games.
“Those numbers can be kind of skewed sometimes because we do what we need to do, whatever’s being successful,” Alexander said. “We can do either (run or pass), and defenses have to be ready for both.”
“We definitely have all the faith in Anthony because, whenever we need a play, he makes it for us.” Porter said. “That’s why the confidence is there, and he’s going to keep on doing that and keep on getting better.”
Before the Tigers’ 10-7 upset victory of then-No. 3 Ole Miss on Oct. 25, ESPN’s Samantha Ponder asked Miles about running so much and what to expect if Jennings were forced to throw the ball more against the Rebels run defense, which was then ranked in the top 10 nationally.
“Early in our SEC season, we were not necessarily as trusting,” Miles said of his sophomore quarterback, who has completed exactly half of his 144 attempts. “We’re much more trusting of Anthony Jennings now.”
Of course, Miles didn’t need to see it that night. The Tigers piled up 264 rushing yards against Ole Miss after hammering Kentucky for 303 yards a week earlier.
But can they throw it effectively if they have to against Alabama?
“I feel completely confident in Anthony, and our pass protection and our running backs getting out (of the backfield) and our receivers running great routes,” Alexander said. “It just depends on what Alabama gives us. … We’re looking forward to focusing on every little thing so we’re prepared for any look they give us.”
Miles said he likes the way Jennings, who has started just nine games in his college career, has developed into a quarterback and a leader of his offense.
“We’ve been fortunate to have an offense that can hand the ball off and get 4 yards,” he said. “And again, we’ve been fortunate to have a quarterback that can step in and make plays and do the things we need to have done to pick up first downs and can move the chains.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.