The Other Side: A preview of the Tigers with The Reveille

Deana Nichols, Contributing Writer

The No. 6 Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1) takes on the No. 10 LSU Tigers (6-2) to kick off the final stretch of the 2022 regular season. The Crimson White sat down with Peter Rauterkus, the sports editor of The Reveille, to get insight on Saturday’s upcoming matchup. 

Nichols: This is clearly a big SEC rivalry game. What is the atmosphere on campus like this week? 

Rauterkus: “It’s a game that people have been looking forward to for a long time. Obviously, the last couple of years have been kind of down, at least for LSU. The last time they played Alabama at home was 2020, for one, when LSU wasn’t any good and two, it was the COVID year so they couldn’t really have fans in the stands. Now, both teams are ranked in the top-10. LSU is coming in off a big win over Ole Miss a couple weeks ago. I think people have been waiting for a game, this game in particular against Alabama, to mean something again because of how meaningful it’s been for so long. I think it’s going to be a crazy atmosphere on Saturday.” 

Nichols: What has the atmosphere been like in the locker room and at practice this week? 

Rauterkus: “We got to talk to players yesterday. You get the feeling from the players and from [head coach] Brian Kelly that they understand it’s a big game. You know obviously this is for first place in the West against Alabama, but they’re trying not to do things different. They’re still treating it like a normal game. They’re still going through the normal preparations. They don’t want to overdo it like maybe LSU teams in years past have, where they’ve kind of overexerted themselves by the time the game comes around. It’s really been about being consistent, focusing on preparation and staying focused for a game like this.” 

Nichols: The Tigers are going into Week 5 of SEC matchups. How has the team been handling this pressure? 

Rauterkus: “It’s funny because I don’t really think anyone expected — at least I didn’t — them to be where they are at this point in the year. It’s Brian Kelly’s first year at LSU as well. I think this team, even though there are a lot of new players because they have transferred in, have a lot of experience. They have guys who understand what it is like to play at this level of college football, who understand what’s it’s like to play in big games like this. I think they’re handling it well. I think Brian Kelly has been preaching taking things one at a time, being consistent on how they approach things, doing things the right way within their process and practicing how they play. I think the experience from the top down has helped them a lot in that area.” 

Nichols: How is LSU going to use this momentum to its advantage?  

Rauterkus: “That’s another one, especially on offense. LSU obviously started the season with a loss. They started the season kind of slow. They’ve had a lot of slow starts, but looking at the last two games, the wins against Florida and Ole Miss, the offense really started to get going again. Scored 45 points in both games. Jayden Daniels at quarterback has been playing really well the last couple of games. Coming off a bye week they’ve had a chance to get healthy but still carry that momentum of that last little win streak coming into the game. I think that will play a part. I think they’re getting better at starting fast. Against a team like Alabama, you have to start fast. If you get into a 17-3 hole like they did against Ole Miss, it’s going to be a lot harder to come back from that. I think that momentum will carry over and it will have an impact in this game.” 

Nichols: Knowing some of the big playmakers at Alabama, how is the team preparing to face the Crimson Tide?  

Rauterkus: “Obviously any time we play Alabama or a big school like Alabama you’re going up against some of the best athletes in the country. I think that’s where the bye week helps. When you look at the guys that Alabama has at wide receiver and you look at LSU’s defensive backs, that’s the main area of concern for LSU. How is LSU going to match up against Alabama’s speed on the outside? I think with two weeks to prepare they’re going to have scheme prepared. I’m interested to see what that’s going to look like. Against Tennessee, the only other team they’ve faced that has elite speed and talent at wide receiver, LSU got burnt. Everyone has been burned by Tennessee this year. It will be interesting to see how they adjust and adapt against a team like Alabama who is very similar offensively and with the type of athletes they have on the outside.” 

Nichols: Just a few weeks ago Alabama lost to now No. 1 Tennessee. How are the Tigers planning to use that loss to beat the Crimson Tide?  

Rauterkus: “There are definitely some things that Tennessee did that a lot of Alabama’s opponents have looked at. In that game Alabama showed, like any other loss, weakness. I think they’ve shown some things in other road games as well that the team can take advantage of. For example, Alabama had, I want to say, 17 penalties against Tennessee. I remember hearing that that was the most in school history in a single game.  

I think the biggest thing is Alabama seemed to struggle, especially this year and a little last year, on the road in big environments. I think the penalties tie directly into that against Tennessee. Obviously, the team doesn’t have much control over what the crowd does and how that effects Alabama. I do think that is something that LSU will have to its advantage. I think it’s going to be great atmosphere. I also think taking advantage of the matchups and trying to do the same things that Tennessee did offensively to create those mismatches, get those wide receivers out in space because LSU has some good wide receivers too.  

“It’s going to be interesting to see what they do to create similar matchups to what Tennessee did to exploit space and get guys in good field position to make plays.” 

Nichols: The Tigers haven’t beat the Crimson Tide at home since 2010. Knowing that Alabama has struggled against big names on their home turf, how is LSU using that to their advantage? 

Rauterkus: “We have seen, the fans especially, over the last couple of years, how Alabama has struggled in some instances in tougher road environments. I think that’s going to bring the best out of the LSU crowd. The LSU crowd really hasn’t been able to showcase itself in a while, especially in a game like this. I think defensively LSU is going to try and bring the pressure and they’re going to try to rattle Bryce Young. Very few teams have been able to do that. I think they’re going to do a lot of the things that we saw Tennessee do, that we saw Texas do. Try to get big plays. Big plays are how you get the crowd involved. Doing what they can to hang on and get the crowd involved throughout the whole game. I think that’s going to have a big impact in a game like this.” 

Nichols: Who are some major playmakers the Crimson Tide should be looking out for?  

Rauterkus: “Offensively, obviously everything kind of starts with [Jayden] Daniels at quarterback. Like I was saying earlier, in the last couple of games he’s looked really good. He set the record last week for rushing yards by a quarterback, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in a season by an LSU quarterback. Turned into one of the better dual-threat guys in the country with how he’s been able to run. The passing game has also improved in the last couple of weeks. He and the receivers have finally started to be on the same page. The offense is starting to flip a little bit. He’s definitely someone to watch.” 

“In the receiving core obviously, you’ve got Kayshon Boutte who had kind of a down year statistically. The last couple games he has started to emerge. He, Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas are all factors in that receiver room. At running back, Josh Williams — he’s been another guy who has really emerged really out of nowhere. [He] was a former walk-on but went from LSU’s third string running back to the guy they’ve been relying on the last few weeks. Offensively I’d say those are the names to watch out for. 

On defensive I think the two most names in this game are Harold Perkins and BJ Ojulari at linebacker. Ojulari at the Jack position, coming off the edge has been, arguably, one of LSU’s best players. He’s been great at creating pressure all season. He’s been getting sacks; he’s been getting to the quarterback, and that’s going to be extremely important against someone like Bryce Young. When you give someone like him time to throw, he’s going to dice you up open. Same with Harold Perkins. He’s a guy, freshman, who’s been outstanding so far this season. Super athletic, can make plays in space. That’s also going to be important when you look at the playmakers like Alabama has. You look at Bryce Young making plays with his feet. You look at Jahmyr Gibbs making plays out of the backfield. I think Harold Perkins is going to be another guy on defense who is going to be extremely important for LSU.” 

Nichols: Alabama cornerback Eli Ricks is a former Tiger and will be playing against them for the first time since his transfer. What are the Tigers expecting to see from him?  

Rauterkus: “That’s the fun one. That’s the matchup that everybody is looking forward to – it’s interesting. Obviously, I’m not covering Alabama so I’m not seeing everything they’re doing day-to-day. Eli Ricks wasn’t really playing much earlier in the season — I want to say the last game is when he really featured extensively for the first time, and he played really well. It didn’t surprise me. I think for the people that have watched him — it didn’t really surprise anybody. He’s an elite defensive back, he showed that at LSU for two years. I think it’s going to be more of the same ‘Hey, he is a really, really good player.’ I think LSU has good receivers, but that’s one of the matchups I’m most interested in. How is LSU going to attack him? How is LSU going to go about attacking Alabama’s secondary? Attacking Eli Ricks? Will we see the Kayshon Boutte-Eli Ricks matchup everyone has been talking about? I’ll tell you this, the fan reception to Eli Ricks on Saturday is probably the thing I am most looking forward to seeing when that game starts. It’s going to be a really interesting matchup.” 

Nichols: Are there any injuries or injury updates for Saturday’s matchup?  

Rauterkus: “We got an update from Brian Kelly on Monday. Garrett Dellinger at left guard who’s been one of LSU’s most consistent offensive linemen missed the last couple of weeks with an MCL sprain. As of Monday, Brian Kelly said he’s day-to-day. We’ll see — we’ll get another update tomorrow [Thursday] whether he’s going play Saturday. We’ll see what happens there. John Emory and Jack Bech, running back and wide receiver, who missed last week. Brian Kelly said they are practicing this week and they do plan to use both of them this weekend. And then Major Burns who started the year at LSU starting safety has missed the last three or four weeks will also be back in the lineup for LSU this week, which is going to be a huge, huge gain for the secondary going up against Alabama. 

Nichols: This matchup is important because it can shape the playoff runs of both schools. What are the Tigers hoping to accomplish in Saturday’s matchup that could potentially get them into the post-season?  

Rauterkus: “It’s wild to think about LSU having a shot to be in the playoffs at this point. It’s Brian Kelly’s first year, but it’s very realistic right now especially if they do beat Alabama. They came in at No. 10 in the first rankings yesterday. I think if they do beat Alabama, they have a very realistic chance of moving inside the top-10. From there, we’ll see how high they do move up. If LSU wins this game, they take full control of the SEC West. I think from there they’ll be just one win and an Ole Miss loss from clinching the division itself. Then we’re looking at LSU playing for an SEC championship in Brian Kelly’s first year which would obviously be huge and something I don’t think anyone was expecting coming into the year. There’s definitely a lot riding on this game in terms of playoff contention, postseason and all of that. LSU can not only make a statement with a win on Saturday, but also put themselves in a position to be in position.” 

Nichols: Who would you consider to be the real “wide receiver university?” 

Rauterkus: “I think if you look at the NFL rosters right now, you look at what guys are doing in the league. I think it’s pretty obvious. Both schools have put some great talent into the league. That’s what makes this matchup so fun. No two schools, no game … I want to say I saw this stat the other day… no annual game produces more NFL talent than LSU-Alabama. I just think to 2019 when you’ve got Justin Jefferson, Jamar Chase, Terrace Marshall on one side and you’ve got Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, Henry Ruggs on one side. That’s the type of matchups you get in this game. It’s going to be really fun to watch.” 

Kickoff at Tiger Stadium is set for Saturday, Nov. 5, at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN. 

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]