Tua Tagovailoa: LSU vs Alabama

Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa warms up before the start of the game against the LSU Tigers during a game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Win or lose, LSU will play the game that defines its season Saturday inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. The No. 2 Tigers face No. 3 Alabama, a team LSU has not beaten since 2011. These are staff writer Wilson Alexander's keys to the game for LSU.

1. Get after Tua

Twenty days will have passed since Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had surgery on a high-ankle sprain. Tagovailoa underwent the same surgery on his other ankle last year and 27 days later, he threw four touchdowns in the CFP semifinal. Labeled a game-time decision, Tagovailoa has practiced this week. The Tigers need to pressure Tagovailoa, not just to test his mobility, but to disrupt Alabama’s passing game, which ranks No. 5 in the country.

2. Win at the line

The last few years, Alabama has dominated LSU at the line of scrimmage, making coach Ed Orgeron say last year he needed to recruit better offensive and defensive linemen. Though this year’s game features high-scoring offenses and electric passing schemes, Southeastern Conference football games are still won at the line of scrimmage. The personnel of LSU’s lines haven’t changed much, but they feel equipped to win their matchups this year. They have to.

3. Make the first tackle

Alabama wide receivers DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle are excellent at turning short passes into long gains. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith (3rd), Jeudy (17th) and Ruggs (29th) rank within the top-30 nationally in yards after catch, while Waddle also falls in the top-60. No other FBS team has three receivers in the top-100. LSU has improved its tackling, but it can’t let those receivers break long touchdowns.

4. No margin for error

LSU can’t afford to beat itself on Saturday with turnovers. Alabama has caused at least one turnover in every game with eight fumble recoveries and 10 interceptions. It has scored 79 points off turnovers, including 24 in the first half during its last game. The Crimson Tide lead the nation in turnover margin through eight games, averaging +1.63 per game. For LSU to end its eight-game losing streak, it can’t give Alabama possessions.

Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com