7:45 PM EST, CBS – Line: Alabama -3.5, Over/Under: 61.5
Week Ten of the Regular Season is highlighted by an annual clash of SEC powerhouses, as the (No 13) LSU Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa to battle the (No. 8) Alabama Crimson Tide, who are out for revenge after last year’s overtime epic in Baton Rouge. While the Crimson Tide has dominated the league over the last seventeen years, winning EIGHT SEC Titles and SIX National Championships, the Tigers have been one of the few alternatives to their reign, earning four conference titles and a pair of National Championships in their own right. Now in the second season of the Brian Kelly era, LSU (6-2, 4-1 in SEC) are gunning for a second straight SEC West Title, as the 62-year-old continues to reshape the program in his image. Though they may not immediately come to mind, these Tigers are currently the highest-scoring team in the FBS, averaging a whopping 47.4 points per game, their most since their magical 2019 national title campaign. Through eight games, (Offensive Coordinator) Mike Denbrock’s unit has churned out 552.9 total yards of offense, including 339.9 through the air on a healthy 10.7 yards per attempt, and another 213.0 on the ground on 5.8 yards per carry. In fact, the current incarnation of the Bayou Bengals has logged an average of 8.1 yards per play, which exceeds the figure posted by Joe Burrow & Co four years ago (7.9). Make no mistake about it, Kelly has worked the Transfer Portal HARD over the last two years, though by far and away the most notable transfer has been that of (Junior Quarterback) Jayden Daniels, who has really thrived in this move to the SEC. Granted, Daniels (pictured below) struggled to live up to the hype in three seasons at Arizona State, leaving many to wonder how he would adapt to greater pressure and the speed and physicality of the Southeast Conference, but let’s all give credit to the Junior, who risen to meet the challenge. Last Fall, Daniels completed a career-high 68.6% of his throws for 2,913 yards on 7.5 yards per attempt, with seventeen touchdowns opposed to just three interceptions, while rushing for an additional 885 yards and eleven more scores. However, this season has seen him take his play to an even higher level, as he has completed an efficient 73.1% of his passes for 2,573 yards on a very healthy 11.5 yards per attempt, TWENTY-FIVE touchdowns in comparison to just three interceptions. Furthermore, he continues to play a major role in Denbrock’s run game, rushing for 521 yards and another five touchdowns. (Junior Receivers) Malik Nabers and Brian Johnson Jr have been premium playmakers in the passing game, with each player totaling 40+ receptions, 730+ yards, and 9+ touchdowns already through just eight games, while netting at least 17.0 yards per catch. This unit has scored forty-eight or more points in four consecutive games, including a 62-0 shutout against Army two weeks ago. This one played out as expected, folks, as the Tigers met little resistance from the Black Nights, outgaining the visitors 570-193 and enjoying a +4-turnover differential. Daniels completed 11-of-15 passes for 279 yards and four total touchdowns, before (Sophomore QB) Garrett Nussmeier relieved his teammate in the fourth quarter and added another score of his own. As for Nabers and Thomas, they combined for 243 yards and four touchdowns on just seven catches, as each Wideout produced a touchdown of 50+ yards. With that all being said, this performance was notable for the fact that it was the second consecutive strong defensive showing from LSU, who have yet to live up to their lofty standards on this side of the football. Kelly and (Defensive Coordinator) Matt House have been renovating this unit since their arrival and have yet to net the desired results; thus far, the Tiger shave relinquished 26.5 points per game (77th in FBS) on 395.0 total yards, including 238.5 against the pass and another 156.5 versus the run, equating to 6.1 yards per play, which is greater than the 5.7 that they shipped last fall. Injuries on the back end have been an ongoing issue since the season opener, and we’ll get into that in a bit, but the last two outings have provided signs that they may be turning the proverbial corner; in a 48-18 win over Auburn before that aforementioned thumping of Army, this was a defense that gave up 32.3 points on 445.6 total yards, including a combined 139 points against (No. 4) Florida State, (No. 10) Ole Miss, and (No. 14) Missouri. Over the last two outings, they’ve relegated the opposition to just 9.0 points per game on 243.0 total yards. Is this a sign of growth from these Tigers? Perhaps, but they’re certain to face a tougher task in slowing down the Crimson Tide, who are being directed by one of Kelly’s former lieutenants (more on that shortly).
From a betting perspective, LSU may be 6-2 straight-up, but they are 5-3 against the spread thus far, winning and covering each of their last three outings prior to the bye week. Since Kelly arrived in Baton Rouge, the Tigers are 13-9 versus the spread, including 1-0 as a road underdog. Dating back to last Fall, this is a team that 6-4 against the spread over their last ten games overall, while the script has been flipped in their past ten games away from Tiger Stadium (4-6 ATS). Louisiana State has been MONEY of late when coming off a bye, covering SEVEN straight contests with a week of rest, while riding a 4-game streak covers after rushing for over 200 yards, which is the case tonight. Looking at this particular matchup, the Bayou Bengal have split the last two encounters after losing seven consecutive meetings between 2012 and 2018. However, they snapped that streak with a wild 46-41 victory in Tuscaloosa (their first since 2011) against the (No. 2) Crimson Tide. The last time they were at Bryant-Denny Stadium, they were 28-point underdogs and narrowly met defeat, 14-20. Of course, they bested ‘Bama straight-up in last Fall’s affair in Baton Rouge, a 32-31 overtime thriller that featured NINE lead changes. Daniels was the hero of the day in that one, completing 22-of-32 passes for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while rushing for another ninety-five yards and a 25-yard score. Instead of kicking the extra point and heading to a second extra period, Kelly opted for the two-point conversion, which Daniels successfully converted with a short toss to (Sophomore Tight End) Mason Taylor. On the injury front, the LSU Secondary bears watching as this position group could be in flux; (Cornerbacks) Darian Chestnut (personal reasons) Zy Alexander (undisclosed), and J.K. Johnson (leg) are all out of action for the foreseeable future, while (Senior Safety) Greg Brooks will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor. Looking ahead, the remaining schedule is far from daunting as Kelly & Co will play their final three regular season games at home, where they will host Florida, Georgia State, and Texas A&M. If they manage to emerge from Tuscaloosa victorious, then these cats could very well find themselves once again representing the SEC West in the Conference Championship Game come early December.
Meanwhile, as much as the world outside of Tuscaloosa would like to dismiss Alabama (7-1, 5-0 in SEC) from playoff contention, here they are, slowly climbing their way up the rankings and in position to compete for a conference championship. Sure, the air may have been taken out of their sails early on after losing to (No. 7) Texas back in early September, but let’s give credit where credit is due, as (Head Coach) Nick Saban has appeared to have righted the ship with this current 6-game winning streak. Make no mistake about it, this hasn’t been easy for ‘Bama, who after years of reloading with premium talent, appeared to finally have suffered from the annual attrition that is the NFL Draft and their competition raiding the coaching staff of assistants. By the numbers, this is the least-productive offensive side that Saban has had in years; the Tide averaged no fewer than 38.0 points per game since 2016, while this unit which is posting just 30.6 points (51st in FBS), would be the school’s lowest-scoring since 2008, which was Saban’s second season on campus. So, what in the name of Paul Bryant is going on in Tuscaloosa, you ask? Well, over the years, Alabama gradually became a QB-driven offense, with the likes of Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones, and Bryce Young all plying their trade on Sundays this Fall. The role of Offensive Coordinator has also served as a platform for aspiring head coaches, with the likes of Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss) and Steve Sarkisian (Texas) being the latest examples of Saban’s lieutenants going on to land major jobs. Coming into this Fall, the 72-year-old wanted to get back to the run game, eventually hiring Tommy Rees as his new OC on the strength of his work in that same capacity at Notre Dame. Of course, Rees played for and coached under the aforementioned Kelly, which creates an interesting game-within-the-game in tonight’s affair, as the student looks to best the master. Coaching matchups aside, Rees has had his hands full with the QB situation at Bryant-Denny Stadium, with Jalen Milroe, Tyler Buchner, and Ty Simpson all getting an opportunity to play in the early goings of the campaign. Milroe (pictured below) began the year as QB1 only to be benched after the loss to Texas, giving Buchner and Simpson a shot in a 17-3 win at South Florida. Unsatisfied with their performance, Saban would eventually turn back to Milroe, who has maintained his grip on the starting job ever since. Since being benched, the Sophomore has completed an efficient 66.7% of his throws for an average of 237.6 yards on 11.0 yards per attempt, with eight touchdowns in comparison to three interceptions, while rushing for another three scores to boot. When we last saw he and his teammates, Alabama rallied back from a 7-20 halftime deficit to defeat (No. 19) Tennessee in a wild 34-20 victory. Saban’s troops looked like they were stuck in the mud in the first half, unable to string together so much as a productive drive, while the defense played damage control in holding the Volunteers to a pair of field goals despite deep drives into the red zone. However, the second half would see the hosts wake up with a roar, running off TWENTY-SEVEN unanswered points, as Milroe kicked things off post intermission with a 46-yard bomb to (Sophomore Receiver) Isaiah Bond. (Sophomore Linebacker) Jihaad Campbell would apply the finishing touches with a 24-yard fumble return to the house, as the Crimson Tide found their rhythm. In the end, the home side amassed 358 total yards on twenty first downs, including 138 of the rushing variety on forty-two attempts, led by (Junior Tailback) Jase McClellan with a workman-like 115 yards and a score on twenty-seven attempts. As for Milroe, he completed 14-of-21 passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, with Bond and (Junior Wideout) Jermaine Burton accounting for both passing scores. Defensively, it was bend-but-don’t-break for (Defensive Coordinator) Kevin Steele, whose troops relinquished 404 total yards, including 271 versus the pass, though made enough timely stops to keep the Vols from doing too much damage.
From a betting perspective, Alabama may be 7-1 straight-up, but they are 5-3 against the spread thus far, covering four of their last five outings, with their only ATS loss coming in a narrow 24-21 win over Arkansas in which they were favored by twenty points in Tuscaloosa. Under Saban’s leadership, this is a program that is 120-99-4 (.538) against the spread, including 59-50-3 in that regard as a home favorite. Dating back to last season, the Crimson Tide is 6-3-1 against the spread in their last ten games overall, including 5-4-1 in their last ten outings at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and 6-3-1 in their past ten as a favorite. With that being said, Saban & Co are just 0-4-1 against the spread in their last five contests as a favorite of 0.5-3.0 points, while covering only ONE of their last six games in the month of November. Looking at this particular matchup, ‘Bama has is 9-2 straight-up in the last eleven meetings between these schools, though they have split the past four encounters. The home team is 3-4 in the last seven affairs, though only 1-6 against the spread, with three of the last four going over the projected total. In last Fall’s 31-32 overtime thriller, the visiting Tide were routinely turned away despite chewing up yardage, settling three consecutive field goals between the second and third quarters. (2021 Heisman winner) Young struggled in this one, completing just 25-of-51 passes for 328 yards, a touchdown and an interception, while taking two sacks along the way. On the injury front, Alabama is largely healthy coming off the bye week. Looking ahead, the Crimson Tide will travel to Lexington for a date with Kentucky next weekend, before returning home for one of those classic SEC penultimate warmups against Chattanooga, followed by the latest edition of the Iron Bowl at Auburn. Needless to say, that isn’t an arduous finish, by any means, which means with a win tonight, Saban & Co could very well be on their way to Atlanta for spot in the SEC Title Game after missing out last December.