As for Alabama, Mike Shula said, “Our guys have laid it on the line each week, and now we’re down to the last home game of the year, the last game our seniors will ever play in Bryant-Denny Stadium. And our players have a chance to beat a team ranked third in the nation.”
Alabama will host LSU at 6:45 p.m. CST Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in a game that will be telecast by ESPN. LSU is 8-1 overall and 4-1 in Southeastern Conference games. The Tigers were idle last week after having blitzed Louisiana Tech 49-13 on November 1. Alabama is 4-6 overall and 2-4 in SEC play and coming off a 38-0 win over Mississippi State.
In his regular Tuesday afternoon press briefing, Shula said that games against ranked teams have inspired Alabama this year. “Their eyes light up about playing highly-ranked teams,” Shula said. “They were that way for Oklahoma and Arkansas and Tennessee. Unfortunately, we didn’t win any of those games. Now we’ve got to get ready for another top ten team on Saturday night.”
Shula said that Alabama would play the remainder of the season without starting tight end David Cavan. Cavan suffered a knee injury against Mississippi State and has undergone surgery. Back-up tight end Clint Johnston was held out of last week’s game with a “stinger,” a pinched nerve in the neck area, and his status is questionable. Shula said the Tide would go with Donald Clarke and Greg McLain as tight ends “and we could do some other things with personnel.”
LSU brings the nation’s top-rated rushing defense to Tuscaloosa, an intricate defense that uses a number of different blitz techniques. While Shula said Alabama might get some confidence for its success against Mississippi State’s blitz package last week, he said that “LSU has far different blitz packages. They have a lot of different packages. Anyone can blitz. Most teams just blitz from one or two positions. We’ll have to do a good job in practice this week.” There is an adage that teams that blitz sometimes get burned–as State did last weekend–, but Shula said LSU–which he compared to Oklahoma defensively–is less vulnerable because of its overall ability.
He noted that the Tigers are particularly good against the run (allowing only 60.3 yards per game) because they have an extra man inside to play the run. LSU can do that, Shula said, because the cornerbacks are so talented they can handle coverage one-on-one.
The Tide coach has gone against LSU Head Coach Nick Saban when Saban was an assistant coach in the NFL. Shula said Saban demands a lot from his players, but they don’t resent it because of the results. “He is extremely bright,” Shula said.“ I’ve always been very impressed with the defenses he’s been a part of. They do a lot of different things and have a lot of enthusiasm. We’ll have to mix it up (run and pass) perhaps more than most weeks.”
Shula also had praise for the LSU offense. He said, “Offensively they can score in a lot of ways. Running the football; they've got receivers who have got good speed and size and can take a short pass, a short screen pass which they like to throw a lot of, and get that in the end zone. And then they can go deep on you. They have the ability to strike quickly.”
Bama’s coach described LSU quarterback Matt Mauck as a “field general,” noting that LSU gets a lot of good plays because Mauck checks off frequently. He said Mauck has a strong and accurate arm. “It’s a challenge for our defensive backs,” Shula said. “Obviously it will help if we can put pressure on their quarterback with our front four like we did last week.”
Shula even noted that LSU leads the Southeastern Conference in both kickoff and punt returns.
“It’s hard to find a weakness,” Shula said of the Tigers. “They are big and athletic and well-coached. When you turn the tape on and you watch LSU, I think you're going to get focused in a hurry on what we have to get done as a team and as individuals because these guys are very good and worthy of their ranking .”
Shula said the staff has looked at videotapes of last year’s game and thinks that in part because of personnel and in part because of schemes there may be some things Alabama can do that the 2002 Crimson Tide did. But, he said, there are also reasons that Alabama’s plan will call for differences.
Following last week’s win over Mississippi State, Shula noted the advantage of having former State Assistant Coach Sparky Woods on the Tide staff. This week Bama can utilize Wide receivers Coach Charlie Harbison, who came to Bama from LSU, where he coached defensive backs. But Shula does not want to overstate the value.
Shula said, “The first thing is personnel, just getting a feel for what their players do, what certain guys do well; what certain guys don't do well. Who are experienced guys, who are young guys. What packages will they use with certain personnel. But LSU is aware of that, too, and if they feel like there's some tendencies, I'm sure they'll try to do things to break those tendencies. You've still got to go out there and play the game. It's our players against their players. But hopefully it will give us a little bit of knowledge about their personnel."
Alabama has had good luck against LSU, holding a 43-18-5 advantage in the series. But LSU has won four of the last seven games and three of the last five in Tuscaloosa. The series has been noted as one in which the visiting team has had great success. Since 1970 the road team has had a 23-9-1 record.