Saturday marks the third and final chapter of the Alabama-LSU trilogy that began almost one year ago to the day. But unlike the Game of the Century, this installment is met with far less fanfare. LSU losing to Florida dulled some of the third edition’s luster, but not any more than the trilogy’s second chapter. Has LSU improved enough, and is Death Valley enough of a factor, to salvage college football’s Trilogy of the Century?
Trilogies have an archetype formula from which screenwriters rarely deviate: chapter one introduces characters and conflict. The Game of the Century did just that last November, as the nation’s two best defenses overwhelmed the opposing offenses, both of which seemed stuck in the feeling out process. Though offense was lacking — 9-6 has become a rallying cry from SEC detractors — overtime is about as much as one can ask from a match-up of No. 1 vs. No. 2.
That ending may not have warranted a sequel, but we got it. And like chapter two in the trilogy archetype, LSU vs. Alabama was true to form in that the score from the first edition was evened. Now, this device is associated with the villain winning to establish the final chapter cliffhanger. If you’re an Alabama fan, that’s not the case, but I have to be the bearer of bad news, Tide nation: you are the Empire.
Les Miles had his hand cut off on a ledge in Cloud City, Tyrann Mathieu is frozen in carbonite, and Will Muschamp just went Boba Fett on the Tigers’ championship aspirations (even if he’s never watched Star Wars). There is hope for redemption, though, and that’s what a trilogy’s third installment provides. The Empire is infringing on enemy territory, where 93,000 purple-and-gold-clad Ewoks will try to bring down the mighty arsenal of Emperor Saban’s reign.
But LSU better have spent its bye week on Dagobah. Otherwise, this trilogy is perilously close to being more Matrix than Star Wars — a forgettable endeavor that went on two chapters too many.
There’s no question the Tiger defense is swinging a powerful lightsaber. LSU is every bit the BCS championship team it was a season ago defensively. However, the offense has sputtered, and that’s been LSU’s exploitable weakness. It nearly cost the Tigers against Auburn, did cost them against Florida, and was pounded into submission the last time LSU met Alabama.
LSU has seemingly found the Force in freshman running back Jeremy Hill, though. In consecutive weeks against top 25 opposition South Carolina and Texas A&M, Hill went for 124 and 127 yards — or, 67 and 70 yards more than Alabama has allowed per game. Hill’s three rushing touchdowns are also one shy of the total the Tide has surrendered in its eight previous games.
Michael Ford will split the workload with Hill, and Spencer Ware should see opportunities. The multifaceted approach gives LSU some hope, though undoubtedly this offense could use Alfred Blue, who was lost to injury last month.
And in order to establish the rush, Zach Mettenberger must fulfill the promise Tiger fans put on him before the season began. In last year’s two meetings against Alabama, LSU rushed for a combined 187 yards. It’s no coincidence the rushing output was so low when quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee could not complete passes, as the Tide loaded up to stop the rush.
Conversely, AJ McCarron had no trouble passing the ball on the LSU defense in January. His performance then was a prelude to what has become a Heisman contending season. He has yet to throw an interception, moving the offense along with the same efficiency that wore down LSU in the BCS championship. His receiving corps is as relevant as a Storm Trooper, in that his targets are largely interchangeable. Aside from Amari Cooper, no Tide receiver has more than 15 receptions, but 15 different players have factored into the passing game.
McCarron’s play is the X-factor, because the Tide’s talented running backs should be at an impasse against what is arguably the best defensive front in the nation — at least initially. If McCarron is effectively moving the ball down field with mid-range passes, it will spread LSU away from the line, which in turn provides Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon opportunity to break out — much like Trent Richardson did in the second half of the trilogy’s second chapter.
Nick Saban has the blueprint for defeating LSU, but as a result LSU knows what needs repairing. The two teams’ familiarity with each other should result in a much more enthralling installment to close the trilogy, and salvage its place in college football lore.