LSU presents little run threat to improving Alabama football ground defense

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

LSU is desperately short on proven pass catchers. Ja’Marr Chase opted out before the season; Terrace Marshall opted out over the weekend; and Racey McMath is considered doubtful to play against Alabama because of an injury.

The Tigers might need a running threat more than a wide receiver.

LSU hasn’t finished a season with fewer than four yards per carry since 2005, but it enters Saturday’s game against the No. 1 Crimson Tide averaging 3.19 yards per carry, 12th in the SEC and tied for 110th nationally. That attack is going up against a consistently improving Alabama defense, which has averaged 2.79 yards per carry allowed over its past four games.

“The scheme has to be better,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “We have to put our players in a better position, call better plays. Our execution has to be better in pass blocking and run blocking.”

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Orgeron was particularly critical of his offensive line from a pass protection perspective, after it allow two sacks and nine quarterback hurries to Texas A&M. But for the season as a whole, it has been better as run blockers. The Tigers have had just 6.53% of their runs stopped for a loss, which ranks third in the SEC, behind only Georgia and Kentucky.

LSU is one of just two SEC teams, joining Mississippi State, that has yet to produce a 400-yard runner this season. Sophomore Tyrion Davis-Price leads the Tigers with 364 rushing yards with John Emery Jr. not far behind at 292. Freshman quarterback TJ Finley has provided some help as a dual-threat option, with 23 runs for 46 yards, but he has not solidified himself as the quarterback after Myles Brennan’s injuries thanks to his liabilities as a passer, primarily five interceptions to four touchdowns thus far.

A great deal of that lack of production is because of the inability to produce explosive plays. LSU is 13th in the SEC in runs of 10 yards or more (only ahead of Mississippi State and its Air Raid offense), 12th in runs of 20 yards or more and tied for 10th in runs of 30 yards or more. It is one of five SEC schools that has yet to produce a run of 40 yards or more; for comparison, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas A&M all have three. South Carolina has six.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s run defense has improved in recent weeks. After allowing six rushing touchdowns in its first four games, it has allowed one in the past four.  It has not allowed a run of more than 20 yards in its past 19 quarters, going back to the first quarter of the Georgia game on Oct. 17.

“We did a lot of good things in the game Saturday,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “I thought the energy level and the way the players went out there and played hard, played with a lot of toughness. It's always a very physical game. We did some very good things.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson