On the eve of the most anticipated matchup in college football this season, let’s take a look at a few questions and key matchups which will play a role in Saturday’s LSU-Alabama showdown.
Can LSU stop Derrick Henry?
LSU’s defense is converting their tackles at a success rate of 86.9 percent (marginally higher than the average of 85.1 percent). But the Tigers starting front seven has been considerably more productive, with a success rate of 91.7 percent (just 14 missed tackles all season).
If the front seven can contain Henry, and prevent him from reaching the secondary, where safeties Rickey Jefferson and Jamal Adams are tackling at a 76.9 percent success rate, LSU can limit the damage done by Henry. But if Henry can break loose into the secondary, the Tigers might be in danger of giving up some long runs.
Can Bama stop Leonard Fournette?
If anyone can, it’s Alabama.
As an entire team, Alabama is tackling at a 90.7 percent success rate—almost as good as LSU’s starting front seven.
When we isolate just the front seven, Alabama has a 92.7 percent tackling success rate.
A talent like Fournette can’t be stopped entirely, so he’ll still shed some defenders, but it looks like the burden for generating the rushing success in this game may fall on the LSU offensive line and its ability to create clean running lanes for Fournette.
Can Brandon Harris win the game?
Early in the season we weren’t buying into LSU as a contender because of Harris. He wasn’t just struggling a little; he was playing at a level that deserved immediate benching.
Through the first four games of the season, Harris was completing a pitiful 29.6 percent of his passes thrown at least 10 yards downfield.
But something has clicked for Harris in recent weeks. In his past three games, Harris is 17-31 (54.8 percent) with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions when throwing 10 or more yards downfield.
With this new dimension added the LSU offense, the Tigers look like one of the more complete teams in college football.
LSU receivers vs Alabama corners
Alabama’s starting cornerbacks have played far below the level we’ve come to expect from the Crimson Tide secondary. Cyrus Jones and Marlon Humphrey have combined to allow a 52 percent catch rate when targeted in coverage, including six touchdowns against two interceptions.
Sometimes a high completion rate is a result of a lot of underneath passes, but that’s not the case here. Jones and Humphrey are yielding a concerning 48 percent completion rate on passes thrown 10 or more yards downfield.
Travin Dural and Malachi Dupree account for 63.6 percent of LSU’s targets, but Dupree is the one Alabama needs to focus on this weekend.
Dural leads the team with 14 targets at 20 or more yards downfield, but has hauled in just two receptions. He’s also struggled battling for the contested catches, as he’s caught just one of seven contested targets.
Dupree, however, is the more productive receiver in both areas. He’s caught six of his 13 targets at 20 or more yards, and seven of his 12 contested targets.
Arden Key vs Cam Robinson
While injuries likely play a role in his struggles, Robinson has been the weak link on Alabama’s offensive line.
Robinson has a pass blocking success rate of just 94.4 percent, and has allowed six sacks this season. To further compound the issues, he also leads all offensive linemen we’ve charted with nine penalties.
Robinson will find himself frequently lined up across from LSU freshman Arden Key, who has been the Tigers most productive pass-rusher. While he’s struggled to convert his pressures into sacks (we’ve credited him with just one) he leads LSU with 20 quarterback hurries.
Which quarterback will make the costly mistake?
Neither team enters this game feeling overly confident in their quarterback.
Both quarterbacks have similar numbers under pressure this season (45 percent completion rate for Coker, compared to 42 percent for Harris). But Coker actually seems to be handling pressure better, despite his limited mobility.
On his dropbacks under pressure, Coker has been sacked 17.8 percent of the time—a below average rate, but not as bad as Harris, who has been sacked on 22 percent of his pressure dropbacks.
That’s a shocking difference considering the gap in mobility between Coker and Harris, and speaks to Harris’ lack of awareness in the pocket.
However, it’s worth noting that Harris has yet to throw an interception this season—under pressure or otherwise. In fact, we’ve only charted one dropped interception for Harris, giving him a potential interception rate of 0.8 percent.
Coker, on the other hand, has thrown seven interceptions and had another three dropped—a potential interception rate of 4.8 percent.
So while Coker may know when to get rid of the ball, he isn’t always making the best decisions on where to deliver it.