You know all about Tua Tagovailoa and his exploits as quarterback for top-ranked Alabama.
So does LSU.
The left-handed passer from Hawaii has completed a shade over 70 percent of his throws with 25 touchdowns and no interceptions, but the Tigers are equally concerned with another element of the Crimson Tide offense. Alabama is averaging 216 rushing yards per game and 5.23 yards per carry, third-best in the SEC.
Those aren’t the kind of ground-game numbers that might match up with UA offenses of the recent past when Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry were rambling on their way to winning Heisman trophies, but the respect is still there.
“I’ve always respected Alabama’s run game, their run-blocking schemes, the way they block and detail, how yard their backs run,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said this week. “Now you add a great quarterback that can have any run-pass option at any time.
“It makes it very hard to defend.”
Alabama leads the nation in scoring, averaging 54 points per game. For all Tagovailoa has brought to the Crimson Tide attack, containing UA’s offense may not start with the passing game.
“To me, I think you’ve got to stop the run,” said Derek Mason, Vanderbilt’s coach, who saw a lot of Tagovailoa last year when Alabama blew out his Commodores in Nashville. “And I think LSU has the ability to do that.”
Mason believes a lot of what makes Tagovailoa such an effective passer is the threat of the run game, including the run-pass options Orgeron mentioned.
“What I would do is focus on the run,” Mason said, “because if Alabama hits you with run and pass, play-action’s going to be a long day at the office for the secondary.
“Get the run game going, because the play-action creates separation between the second- and third-level defenders.”
That could be problematic for the Tigers. While LSU ranks seventh nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 15.1 points per game, it is seventh in the SEC against the run, giving up 130.5 yards on average.
“I’d say by ranking them, that’s not a good place for LSU to be,” Orgeron said. “Nobody wants to be in the middle, but that’s where we’re at.
“I think we did very well against Georgia, which is an excellent run team. We didn’t do well against Florida. We handled Mississippi State’s run OK. I think we’ve been kind of up and down. We’re not as good as we want to be, but we’ve faced some very good teams. We’re going to be challenged this week.”
Alabama’s run game has been as uneven as the Tigers’ run defense. The Crimson Tide, too, will be challenged.
“We’ve had our moments where we’ve done a pretty good job of controlling the line of scrimmage,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “There’s other times that I’m sure … we feel like we could do a little bit better, and we’ve been focusing on that because we’re going to play against probably the best front seven we’ve seen all year.”
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.