Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

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

CW / Riley Brown
Alabama wide receiver Jermaine Burton (#3) jumps to make a catch against Tennessee.

The No. 8 Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1) is set to take on the No. 13 LSU Tigers (6-2) this Saturday as the regular season is winding down. Last year, Alabama fell 32-31 with a last minute two-point conversion from LSU. As the team prepares for a revenge game, the Crimson White sat down with Peter Rauterkus, sports editor of The Daily Reveille to discuss the upcoming matchup.  

Nichols: What has that atmosphere been like on campus this week? Because this is obviously one of the biggest games of the year for both teams. 

Rauterkus: “I mean, it’s cold, which I think has put everybody off, that doesn’t have too much to do with the game. But every year around this time, it’s always just… It always feels a little bit different, especially when LSU is good. Coming off of our freshman and sophomore year where, by this point of the season, everybody was just ready for it to be over because they were just bad both those years. But now the last two years, LSU goes into Alabama week with a chance to be a contender again, a chance to play for a spot in the SEC Championship, just like last year. I think last year’s game kind of changed the way people think about this game now. Alabama for so long. In the years where they had won eight games in a row until LSU would just always felt like that was the biggest game. But the result always felt inevitable. Now, from 2019 to last year, I mean LSU has won two of the last four games. It feels like it’s starting to become more of a competition again. People are excited. It’s just gotten to that part of the season where they’re ready to see what this team is really capable of.” 

Nichols: Has there been anything that the team has been focusing on specifically in practice, like anything that coaches and I’ve mentioned in press conferences this week? 

Rauterkus: “I guess I can’t really do much to work on this, but the biggest thing has been trying to get healthy. I mean, that’s LSU’s biggest issue right now. A lot of them have some key injuries. Brian Kelly has already said that LSU’s best corner is Zy Alexander, best defensive line is Mekhi Wingo, both aren’t going to play in this game and could see extended time out. And the secondary is the big thing where LSU is going to be playing basically all freshmen at corners. They brought in four corners out of the transfer portal between injuries and just other players being inactive for undisclosed reasons. They’re down to pretty much all freshmen at the corner spots. So really, I think the bye week, it’s never a good time to lose your top four corners. But when you have two weeks to prepare, I think that it’s beneficial to them to where at least they get an extra week to work into the system, develop a game plan given you’ve got some guys out there who are not that experienced.” 

Nichols: The Tigers have a Heisman Trophy runner in quarterback Jayden Daniels. Who can the Crimson Tide expect to see from him on Saturday? 

Rauterkus: “I think similar to what we saw in the last year’s game, except I think…looking at where Jayden Daniels was coming into this game last year versus this year, he wasn’t… LSU’s passing game, the offense wasn’t quite opened up yet the way it is now. I want to say Daniels only threw for 180 something yards last year’s game, but also ran for close to 100 yards. And this year, he’s definitely just as fast. He’s just as much of a running threat. But he also leads the SEC in passing now and is in the top five in the country in passing yards. So everybody goes… People are already starting to make the comparison from this offense to 2019. And if you look at the numbers, it’s starting to not be that far off. I mean, this team, LSU leaves the country in total offense. They have what many would say at least the best performing quarterback in the country right now. On Saturday, I’d expect him to play like that. I think it’s going to take that type of performance to beat Alabama. It is like 2019, in the sense that that’s where Joe Burrow was already the best player in the country going into that, but the Alabama game was where he cemented himself as the Heisman winner. I think if Daniels comes into this game, throws for 300/350 yards, has a really good game and LSU wins; I think the Heisman trophy is going to be his at least at that point.”  

Nichols: You talked about the fact they’re coming off a bye week and prior to that, they had win against Army. How can the Tigers keep that momentum rolling for this game? 

Rauterkus: “Yeah, I mean, I think just the moment of the last few games, I think, has helped, especially defensively. LSU was just so bad to start the season on defense. But ever since…that all peaked during the Ole Miss game where LSU gave up 55 points, gave over 700 yards. I want to say it was the most yards LSU has ever given up in a game. They played in Missouri the next week and gave up 39 points, but we saw improvement in the second half of that game for LSU’s defense, especially when it comes to third down. Then LSU played really good defensively against Auburn and Army, shutting our Army and holding Auburn to 18 points. Mind you, neither of those offenses are really all that good, so read into that what you may. But I think that’s it. LSU seems to be building there, especially upfront. Obviously, like I mentioned, the secondary is depleted, there’s injuries. You really don’t know what you’re going to get there. But LSU’s defense in line has continually improved. Losing Wingo hurts in the interior, but that’s probably where LSU has more depth than anywhere else on defense. Jordan Jefferson will probably feel into that spot who, Kelly, said this week has actually been their highest graded defensive line. I think that’s going to be big against Alabama, against a team that likes to run the ball, a team that’s going to try to run the ball, take deep shots. I think it’s going to be important to match them upfront. I think they’re trending in the right direction. I’m interested to see how much progress they’ve really made when they go up against a team like Alabama on Saturday.”  

Nichols: Last year’s game all came down to a two-point conversion at in end in the last couple of seconds. What can LSU do this year to just take a big lead early? 

Rauterkus: I think the key for this game is for LSU…to get off to a fast start. Because if you look at Alabama, they have gone off to slow starts so far this season. You look at the Tennessee game. Alabama was down 20-7 at half time against a Tennessee offense that’s certainly not what it was last year. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a horrible offense, but it’s not the Tennessee offense that we saw last year that scored 50 plus points on Alabama. But Tennessee, they got a through fast start, was still only led by 13. Alabama came back in the second half, and we all saw what happened. I think this is a team where LSU can and needs to star-fast against. Not only start fast but put Alabama in a deep enough hole they can’t climb out of. You look at that game worth 20-7 a half time. Can LSU get to a spot where maybe it’s 28-7? Take a three- possession leap at half-time, and then you’ve got an offense that I don’t think anybody can just completely shut down this offense for a half. Even if they do slow down a little bit, I think it’s almost impossible to come back from the three-touchdown deficit against LSU just with how efficient that offense is. I think getting off to a fast start is going to be huge. And I think that’s, for an LSU offense that’s as good as it is and an Alabama offense, that is good, but is sometimes inconsistent. I think getting off to a fast start, but getting out to a lead that it’s going to be really hard to get out of early is going to be important.”  

Nichols: Crowd noise is a major part of college football. With a rivalry of this magnitude, how can the Tigers block out the noise and stay focused on winning the game?   

Rauterkus: “I think LSU knows that better than anybody. The home field advantage, they get most games, and you get that pretty much wherever you go in the SEC. Now, I would say out of the games LSU has played so far, this is probably the toughest environment they’ve gone into. They went to Ole Miss, which was a really good crowd, but that stadium is nowhere near as big as Bryant-Denny. Same with Mississippi State, we’ve got the cowbells, but really LSU took that crowd out of the game pretty early. So yeah, it’s going to be a factor. But I think all these players are used to it. They’ve been around college football. They know what it’s like to play under pressure, playing a big-time moment. But I also go back to getting off to a fast start. If you can make a few big plays early, get out to the lead, take the crowd out of the game early in the game, then I think that would be really important to LSU in this game.”  

Nichols: From Alabama, we’ve seen Jalen Milroe, when he has time in the pocket, pass it to Jermaine Burton. So those two together, have kind of become a power team. What can the defense do to stop opportunities like this from happening? 

Rauterkus: “I think get pressure on them. You mentioned when he has time in the pocket, I think don’t give him time in the pocket. Alabama’s biggest weakness has been their offensive line. I think getting pressure on Jalen Milroe is mandatory for this LSU defense, especially when you look at the strength of this LSU defense. If there is a strength to this LSU defense, it probably is upfront. They’re going to have to get after him. I’m really curious to see what role Harold Perkins plays in this game. He’s played in the nickel Sam role, but do we see him blitzing in the quarterback more? Do we see him spying the quarterback more? What do we see out of edge rushers like Bradyn Swinson and Ovie Oghoufo. We’d already talked about Jordan Jefferson on the interior, Maason Smith on the interior. Those guys are going to be, I think, the most important players for LSU on defense when it comes to just not letting Jalen Milroe feel comfortable in the pocket and not letting those plays develop. I think you also have an opportunity there. You make them uncomfortable it can force them into mistakes. And LSU stealing extra possessions, I think, could win them this game.”  

Nichols: Are there any injuries or injury updates that we should be made aware of? 

Rauterkus: “I mentioned earlier, the two biggest ones – Zy Alexander and Mekhi Wingo, are both going to be out for this game. I want to say that’s it out of players that we know are out. Emery Jones missed the Army game with an injury against Auburn. But Kelly said that he was practicing this week as of Monday. Same with Ashton Stamps, another one of the freshman corners who missed the last two games. But Brian Kelly said that he’s back practicing this week. I think as of now, it’s just Alexander and Wingo. Kelly has his final pregame availability tonight where he’ll get final injury report.”  

Nichols: What Tigers should we be looking out for on Saturday?
Rauterkus: I think on offense, it’s the usual suspects, obviously, Jayden Daniels. I think, though, when you look at the LSU passing game, I think the depth in the passing game is really what’s going to be huge. Everybody knows, especially the Alabama defense, about Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas. Alabama has two really good corners in Terrion Arnold and Koolaid McKinstry. What can LSU get from the rest of the receiving or the rest of the passing catchers? What can Kyren Lacy as the number three provide? He had played really well coming into this game from the bye week. Can he keep it up? Mason Taylor at Tide End, he was the one who had their game winning two-point conversion catch last year. He had a really big game in this match up last year. What can he provide for LSU? Chris Hilton, Aaron Anderson. We have the back field and passing game from Logan Biggs, Josh Williams, Kaleb Jackson. So in offense, Jayden Daniels yeah, but I think it’s going to be the guys who we’re not necessarily always talking as much about what can they provide.
Then on defense, it’s going to take key contributions at every level. I think looking at the front seven, it’s Harold Perkins. I mean, he’s just your most dynamic player on defense. You can use him in so many ways. The question is, how will LSU use him against this offense? I think Jordan Jefferson, just because of the role he’s filling in for Mekhi Wingo.
Then looking at the secondary, it’s really hard to put it on one guy. I think it’s just the whole group. I don’t expect them to go out there and try to cover out them man to man with the freshman, Jeremiah Hughes and Ashton Stamps and Sage Ryan…It’s going to be about keeping everything in front of you, making tackles in space, being assigned and sound. There’s been times this season, LSU has been good at that, but other times they’ve been really really bad, especially against Ole Miss. They just need to tackle in the secondary, get pressure upfront.
But yeah, so it’s a long-winded answer and a lot of different key players. But if I had to say, give you two on each side of the ball. On defense, I’d say, Harold Perkins and Sage Ryan. On offense, I would say, Jayden Daniels and Kryen Lacy. 

Nichols: Is there anything last minute that you would like to add?  

Rauterkus: “I think it’s going to be a really good game. I’m excited for it.” 

Kickoff is set for 6:45 p.m. CT in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Follow along on CBS.  

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