Alright, I plead guilty. I've been more caught up in the pageantry of the game and the sideline stories than I've been caught up in the actual football to be played. I'm here this morning to correct that.
Where are the key matchups on the field? What sort of strategy do I expect the teams to employ? Where will they find the success?
For the LSU offense, I expect them to run the ball. Big surprise. But let's look a little past that. We've run a lot of Hester lately, but I expect that the speed guys may have a lot more success in this game. I think that means more of Keiland, more of Holliday, and more of Murphy. We'll start with Hester but I see us moving to the speedier guys as the game progresses.
Our passing game should be much more effective now that we have Early Doucet back, and while I expect us to continue running more than we pass, it is my hope and expectation that we will be more efficient in the passing game. Bama has good corners, but has been somewhat vulnerable when their safeties have been caught in one-on-one situations. We'll run to set up the pass, the same way we have all year. It seems like our passing identity has finally emerged, and we appear to be more of a safe passing team, going to tight ends and into the middle of the field a lot. We've had success going to Richard Dickson and to the deep middle of the field.
On defense, we've had a lot of problems lately with teams going to middle of our zone. They've also had success with power running right at us. Fortunately, Bama doesn't really have a power running game. They excel at the speed running game with Terry Grant, who is a big play scat back. The key will be stopping Grant and putting the passing game into obvious passing situations.
In those obvious passing situations, expect Bama to move their best receiver, DJ Hall, around the formation to try to find and exploit mismatches. Hall is a guy who can exploit a zone and can't really be covered by a safety one-on-one. I wouldn't describe him as a speed guy, but he's big, he runs good routes, and he doesn't drop the ball. If we sit back in a soft zone and give the quarterback time to throw, DJ Hall will pick us apart. However, I think they can be beaten on the line, and we can have a lot of success with opportunistic blitzes.
Of course, games in the SEC are often won on the lines, and I think we have a fairly significant advantage here, especially when we're on defense. The Bama offensive line played its best game last week without two of its starters, but frankly Tennessee's defense is not as good as usual this year, and they were unable to exploit the problems on the Bama offensive line (or the Bama energy and emotion for that matter). If those guys continue to be out, I think we'll be able to exploit their absence a little more.
Our problem here is that we haven't gotten consistent pressure on quarterbacks except when we blitz, and that has definitely hurt us. I don't expect our best pass rusher, Kirston Pittman, to have a lot of success going against Andre Smith, but our other guys should be expected to get to the quarterback. They haven't done it consistently this year, and if they don't do it this week we'll be exploited in the passing game.
I'm a big believer in the idea that you have to rush as many as it takes to get pressure. It doesn't matter how many you drop into coverage, if the quarterback has 5 seconds in the pocket, a halfway decent one will find an open receiver. John Parker Wilson is no exception. The Wilson-Hall combination is lethal if Hall has time to complete a route and Wilson has time to find him. We will have to get to Wilson to stop that passing game, and I really hope that this means Pelini will get out of the soft zones we've been playing.
On special teams, Bama has a very good returner we'll have to neutralize. Hopefully we won't do it by squib kicking and giving Bama the ball on the 40 every time, like some teams have done at times.