Battle in the trenches: Can Alabama's D-line contain Fournette?
Playoff implications loom large in Tuscaloosa Saturday night, as Alabama plays host to LSU. The undefeated Tigers look to beat Alabama for the first time since 2011. This game will most certainly be a slugfest, and it features a great matchup in the trenches: LSU’s rushing attack taking on Alabama’s run defense. Who will win this SEC West showdown?
Every positive adjective has already been used to heap praise on LSU’s running back and Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette, but it isn’t enough. The leading rusher in the country has tallied 1,352 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground, and is a one-man show with the ball in his hands. While his offensive line has played alright (-0.9 run block grade), the bulk of the credit for our top-ranked team rush grade (+39.3) rests on Fournette’s shoulders. Being a bigger back, some label Fournette as a bruiser (his 762 yards after contact is the best in the NCAA), but you cannot discount his home-run speed either as he has 20 carries of 15+ yards. Quarterback Brandon Harris is a dual-threat option with 195 yards on the ground, and backup running backs Darrel Williams and Derrius Guice have played well in relief, but the Tigers will need a big game from Fournette to be successful.
Alabama owns our third-ranked run defense (+100.7) and as you’d expect, the main reason is the work from the stout defensive line. Giving up a scant 78.5 rushing yards per game, this Crimson Tide defensive line had nine returning contributors from 2014 and are led by starters Jarran Reed, Jonathan Allen and A’Shawn Robinson. While this entire unit is littered with talent (every member of the two-deep rotation has a positive grade), Reed has been the most impressive and is our second-ranked interior defender against the run (+27.4). Reggie Ragland is the leader of the linebacker corps and is the second-highest graded defender (+19.3) on this defense behind Reed. Along with Reuben Foster and Denzel Devall, this unit may be the best run thumpers in the country.
LSU wins if…
They get movement inside on the interior of Alabama’s defensive line. While Fournette has had success bouncing runs outside, Alabama’s linebackers are terrific at running sideline to sideline. Right guard William Clapp and right tackle Vadal Alexander are the strength of the Tigers’ offensive line and should be leaned on to open up some holes. Fournette can hammer Alabama inside and help LSU sustain long drives by racking up positive yards on every carry.
Alabama wins if…
They gang up on Fournette and refuse to let him pick up a full head of steam. By keeping fresh bodies rotated in on the defensive line, the Crimson Tide can ensure nobody is worn out and trying to arm tackle the best running back in the country. If Alabama rallies to the ball and prevents LSU from springing any long runs, the Alabama faithful will be pleased with the outcome of this game.
Prediction: Alabama over LSU
The winning streak in this rivalry continues for Alabama as they corral Fournette as well as anyone this year. He surpasses 100 yards, but is held out of the end zone for the first time this season. The Crimson Tide win a low-scoring contest and vault to the top of the SEC West standings.