First place in the SEC West will be at stake when No. 6 Alabama visits No. 10 LSU on Saturday night in Baton Rouge, La.
The Crimson Tide (7-1, 4-1) can seize control of the West by beating the Tigers (6-2, 4-1), then winning next week at No. 11 Ole Miss, the only other team in the division with just one loss. That defeat came against LSU two weeks ago.
Alabama and LSU were off last week and landed in the top 10 of the initial College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday. A rise in the West standings and the rankings is part of what is at stake Saturday.
“This game has always got significant implications,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “They’re always ranked, we’re always ranked. It’s kind of a rivalry game that’s always a really important match-up.”
Alabama lost to then-No. 6 Tennessee 52-49 three weeks ago before bouncing back with a 30-6 home victory against Mississippi State a week later.
“You never know how a bye week’s going to affect a team,” Saban said. “Hopefully, it gave us a chance to get some guys healthy. I think psychologically, it gives you a chance to sort of recalibrate a little bit, get a little break.
“The focus is so important, I think, regardless of whether you’re coming off a bye week or you’re playing week in and week out, to be able to sustain that, recapture it, regain it, momentum, whatever you want to call it.”
After giving up 567 total yards and five touchdown passes against Tennessee, the Alabama defense was much improved against Mississippi State, but the offense managed just two field goals in the second half and finished with 29 rushing yards on 27 carries.
“Obviously it wasn’t very good in the last game,” Saban said of the running game. “We’ve got to have a little more diversity in what we’re doing as well as being able to execute it a little better on a more consistent basis.”
The Tigers have been playing better of late in their first season under former Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.
They won at Florida 45-35 before beating previously undefeated Ole Miss 45-20 in their last two games before the break.
“You have to take this game and think about how you got here,” Kelly said. “We’ve done it by our preparation. We have focused on playing our best when our best is needed.
“Our best players are going to have to play well, we’re going to have to play consistently for four quarters. We must get off to a good start because we’ve shown we’re going to play well in the second half.”
The Tigers have yet to score first in an SEC game, but they have bounced back to win each game except a 40-13 loss to Tennessee.
They weren’t expected to be contending for the division title this late in the season, coming off a 6-7 record last season and a 5-5 record in 2020.
Those seasons in the wake of the 2019 national championship season led to the firing of Ed Orgeron and the hiring of Kelly. LSU beat the Tide 46-41 on its way to that title, but that’s the Tigers’ only victory over Alabama in the last 11 meetings.
“This is why you come to LSU,” Kelly said. “This is why I came to LSU. It’s not pressure, it’s a privilege to play in games like this.”
–Field Level Media