LSU-Bama Preview: The Tiger Offense
LSU's Spencer Ware
LSU's Spencer Ware
Posted Oct 31, 2011

Both teams can rack up points - perhaps more closely than you'd think. They have dominant offensive lines, big backs - and plenty of them - and quarterbacks that are underrated as far as 2011 goes. CFN's Rich Cirminiello and Phil Harrison deep dive into both units, and not surprisingly, balance appears to be the order of the day.

Rich Cirminiello – LSU's Offense

Yeah, they do play a little offense in Baton Rouge after all.

While the LSU defense has snared most of the headlines so far in 2011, it's the offense that's fashioned the biggest strides. More steady than spectacular, the Tigers are averaging 39.25 points a game, or thirteen-hundredths fewer than Alabama. Put another way, the Tigers are on pace to break the single-season school record established just four years ago. As a point of reference, they ranked a paltry No. 10 in the SEC at this time last year at just over 25 points a game.

What's most impressive about the suped-up LSU attack this season is the number of hurdles it's faced and cleared in getting to this point. Where to begin? Steve Kragthorpe was hired to replace Gary Crowton as the new coordinator, only to be diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the summer, and ceding some of his duties to line coach Greg Studrawa.

Suspensions and injuries? Yup, there have been a few of those. Starting QB Jordan Jefferson was whacked for the first four games. Leading rusher Spencer Ware has missed a pair of games, one because of injury and last week's Auburn visit because of a violation of the team's drug policy. WR Russell Shepard served a three-game NCAA suspension. And starting LG Josh Dworaczyk was shut down for the year when a nagging knee injury required surgery just prior to the opener.

So what's been the difference this fall? A substantially higher degree of consistency from behind center, for beginners.

The Jefferson-led aerial attack was downright nauseating in 2010, ranking 92nd nationally in passing efficiency. With Jarrett Lee at the controls this fall, though, LSU leads the SEC in the category by a wide margin. The ultra-consistent, unflappable senior has thrown 13 touchdown passes to just a single pick, doing a neat Matt Mauck/Matt Flynn impression. Now, the Tigers are still a somewhat conservative animal that'll lean heavily on the ground game to set up the pass. And Kragthorpe and Studrawa have been masterful at simplifying a system that had become far too complicated when Crowton was calling the shots. However, the specter of Lee—and to a lesser extent Jefferson as a dual-threat—have made life markedly easier for the workhorses in the backfield.

In an ideal world, LSU will want to run the ball between 45-50 times in Tuscaloosa, attempting to soften a ‘Bama D that heretofore has been impenetrable. Attempting being the operative word. The Crimson Tide has held opponents to a hard-to-fathom 1.6 yards per carry, and has permitted just one of 215 rushing attempts to go for at least 25 yards.

The Tigers are going to counter with a trio of physical sophomore backs, the recently-reinstated Ware, Michael Ford and Alfred Blue, all of whom are north of 215 pounds, and can drag tacklers when they lower their shoulders. Don't be surprised if Les Miles throws in a little of true freshman Kenny Hilliard as well; the bruising LSU legacy shined in his coming out party vs. Auburn. This group is not going to get to the outside of the tackles on ‘Bama, aiming instead to soften the interior of the front seven a little in order to help make Lee more effective on play-action.

When Lee does drop back to throw, he'll likely be looking in the direction of WR Reuben Randle, LSU's most dangerous playmaker through the first eight games. The suddenly-polished junior has finally started playing up to his vast potential, making a team-high 33 grabs for 638 yards and seven touchdowns. If he's successful at stretching the star-studded Tide secondary, Lee could get a couple of good looks on underneath routes at TE DeAngelo Peterson, who's been quiet since the opener with Oregon. Alabama remembers Mr. Peterson from last season.

Up front, where Studrawa has really earned his wages this fall, an underrated Tigers front wall should be able to hold the line on Alabama. While LSU is not dominant in the trenches, neither is the Tide, which could result in a stalemate when the two units collide. The Tigers have been workmanlike in their approach, with senior RG Will Blackwell grading the highest among the ensemble. They won't have to contend with a scary pass rush from the defensive line or a tour de force end coming around the edge. They do, however, hope to have numerous chances to get out to the second level on running downs, and put a helmet on one of those vicious ‘Bama linebackers, such as Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower.

If LSU is going to be the first team of 2011 to put a dent in the Alabama fortress, it must establish the line of scrimmage, get the big backs running downhill and keep the offense away from too many third-and-long situations. The Tide is particularly unrelenting on third downs, holding opponents to a measly 26% conversion rate. True to their personality, the Tigers plan to pound the ball between the tackles, freely rotating in Ware, Ford and even Blue in an effort to keep everyone fresh and involved in the gameplan. However, success in a game of this magnitude—and against an opponent of this caliber—will mandate that offensive balance be achieved. It'll be incumbent upon Lee to find Randle striding behind the defensive backfield on one of their patented long ball hook-ups at least once or twice…preferably in the early going. If the Crimson Tide is forced to respect the downfield passing game, everyone in purple and gold is going to benefit. If not, it promises to be a very long and futile night on offense for the visitors.

Follow Rich on Twitter @RichCirminiello

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