Alabama LSU Football

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) makes a touchdown grab against LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (24) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

Jared Brodtmann: Hi, everyone! I’m honored to be joined this week for a special LSU-Alabama Q&A with Ashlee Woods of the Crimson White, Alabama’s student newspaper. She’s extremely knowledgeable about all things Crimson Tide, so let’s get right into this!

Brodtmann: It seems like Bryce Young has settled into this offense in his first year at the helm. What are his best qualities, and is he a viable Heisman candidate?

Ashlee Woods: He’s done really well, getting into a new system especially. He didn’t play too much under [ex-offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian], so I guess it’s really not new to him, but it is a different system than the one Sark liked to employ. I think he’s done a really good job of adjusting to it and the pressure of being the starting quarterback. It was going to be tough for anybody to come after Mac Jones in that legendary season that the 2020 team had. The standard is even higher after following a quarterback who went 13-0 in the midst of a pandemic and absolutely obliterated Ohio State. Yet, he never really showed that he was under pressure throughout the offseason. He shares the responsibility with his own receivers and his skill players.

No matter what the situation is, even against Texas A&M, he never really looked frazzled. He will stick to what he knows the best, and that’s getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers or doing something to extend the play with his legs or his arm. I think after Mississippi State, he started to take more chances with legs and extend plays. I think that’s really helped his development.

As far as his Heisman candidacy, I really do think it’s viable for him. He’s setting new highs, getting the ball into his receivers’ hands, and creating opportunities for the players around him to be successful. And it’s also making him successful, because he’s moving the offense. He’s being more efficient, because he has so much trust with receivers to make the play. I think that’s really good out of a young sophomore quarterback that only played four games out of last year.

Woods: This has really been a tough stretch for LSU. As of late, you’ve lost three out of the last four games. What happened?

Brodtmann: I keep laughing because that’s the only thing anybody can do at this point to get through this. It’s just been an onslaught. Everything that could have gone wrong this season really did from he start. At the UCLA game at the beginning of the year, there was a lot of expectations that this team was going to come back and be a 10-win team in the West and compete with Alabama again like they did in 2019. They have the talent; everyone knows that. I just didn’t feel like there was an organized plan from the start. The head coach did not do what he was supposed to do, and he paid the price for it in the middle of the season.

Their struggles are kind of broad. I liked to focus on the offensive line at the beginning of the year, but they’ve started to play a lot better lately; the run game has really been able to get established. However, at the beginning, the offensive line was atrocious. I’ve never seen an LSU team that was unable to pass block, run block or buy Max Johnson any kind of time to make a play. It was a really bad sequence from the start.

I think the players saw the writing on the wall after those first couple of losses. At that point, the mood soured, and everyone knew what was going to happen because of the results last year. On top of that, there have been so many injuries on both sides of the ball. We’ve lost Kayshon Boutte, Derek Stingley Jr., and Eli Ricks, just to name a few. I think a lot of these injuries are bad injuries, but some may be injuries where in a normal season, they might be able to play through it. The mood is sour here.

FB Athletes Press Conf.

LSU football senior offensive guard Ed Ingram (70) speaks to the press Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, during the weekly press conference in the LSU Football Operations Center on Skip Bertman Dr.

Woods: You mentioned the offensive line , which segues into my next question so beautifully. You said the offensive line has improved, but this is the arguably the best defensive line this offense will face the season. How do you think they will fare against Alabama’s defensive line?

Brodtmann: It’s going to be difficult. Everyone knows how talented these Alabama guys are, but they’ve definitely made strides with their returning talent. Orgeron made a point at the end of the year that he wanted to bring back all five starting offensive linemen, and he succeeded in doing so. But the fact of the matter is they’re just not at the same level that these Alabama guys are on the other side. Will Anderson coming around that corner is going to be frightening for Johnson. I feel like he’s going to have to be on the run a lot. If anytime he’s dropping back into shotgun. It’s going to be a long night for LSU. They’re going to have to get creative with their schemes to establish the run again like they want to and give Max time to throw.

Brodtmann: Baton Rouge’s own Christian Harris and Tennessee transfer Henry To’o To’o came into the season as one of, if not, the best linebacker duos in the country. Have they lived up to those expectations?

Woods: Yes, it has, especially after the loss of Christopher Allen, they had to step up. From sideline to sideline, To’o To’o is really good at getting across the field and making tackles. Christian Harris is great at wrapping up as well. They’re just such physical players. Just the way that they play the game, how they watch the quarterback, how they dissect the play and where they go, it’s absolutely great. It’s going to be a hard time for LSU to establish a run game with such great linebackers. Then they’ve provided opportunities for suppression to allow Will Anderson to come around and get sacks. It’s going to be pretty hard to get some yards against those two linebackers.

Brodtmann: How good is Evan Neal? Draft people are licking their chops over his physicality and technique, and he seems like the best tackle in this class?

Woods: It’s just been great. After losing Alex Leatherwood and Landon Dickerson, you really needed someone that had experience on that offensive line, because three out of five starters are starting for the first time. His experience has been so helpful for Bryce Young’s transition. That line has improved primarily because of his leadership and technique. It’s unreal how good he is getting off at the snap and setting himself up for that block. Not many of Alabama’s sacks have come from Neal’s side. Whatever team gets him in the NFL better be thanking their lucky stars because they got somebody that can protect their quarterback.

Woods: LSU has faced a lot of adversity this year with the hurricane, the losses, the injuries. Then, Orgeron is now leaving LSU at the end of the season. How can you see these players have handled adversity?

LSU Football vs. Ole Miss

LSU football senior cornerback Darren Evans (24) stalls a University of Mississippi player on a punt return on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, during LSU's 31-17 loss against the University of Mississippi, in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Mississippi.

Brodtmann: I think the whole situation is just a bit strange. It might be for the best in the long run to announce a head coach firing in the middle of the season after a win of all things we just beaten Florida, and the next day they announced that they met the buyout negotiation amount and that he won’t be returning for the next season. I’ve never really seen anything like it. I think it’s good for the team that they got out in front of it, as it was obvious it was going to be the result by the end of the season. Why not just announce it now, and help recruits and current players make easier decisions for their careers in a proactive manner?

In terms of the team, I think they’ve responded as well as they could. It’s obviously a difficult situation with a build up of so many factors. From where they were two years ago, to the pandemic, and into the season. I’m sure it’s been a lot for them to deal with.

Brodtmann: Obviously the Texas A&M loss had to be disappointing for Saban, the team, and the fanbase. Things have settled down now, and the path to Atlanta and the playoff is much more clear. What's the energy like throughout Tuscaloosa about their chances going forward?

Woods: The loss was surreal. I blame Johnny Manziel for this.

No one thought Jimbo Fisher and Zach Calzada would have the perfect game plan for Nick Saban and this Alabama team. They did, and they executed it perfectly. Immediately, fans were like “Well, what do our playoff chances look like?,” because as soon as Alabama slips up, Georgia steamrolls past. But then a dominant win over Mississippi State and a big win against Tennessee slowed everything down for a little bit. The path was clear from the get-go: you have to win out.

However, 17 of 28 teams that have made the playoffs have had one loss. Out of Alabama’s six appearances, three of them have been with one loss. The chances of them making the playoffs are actually really good now, but if they turn around and lose to Georgia in the SEC championship, it’s done for.

Woods: The running back group for LSU has improved a lot the last couple of games despite the losses. Do you think Ed Orgeron is going to employ the run game to take pressure off Max Johnson? How do you see that plan being implemented?

LSU Football vs. Ole Miss

LSU football junior running back Tyrion Davis-Price (3) prepares to take the field on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, during LSU's 31-17 loss against the University of Mississippi, in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Mississippi.

Brodtmann: The running back room has been weird this year. The beginning of the season saw hopes of this two headed monster in Ty Davis-Price and John Emery Jr. Emery was ruled to be ineligible with his academics. The good news is the emergence of Armoni Goodwin and Corey Kiner ended up supplementing that absence of Emery. Ty has definitely established himself as the lead back.

The way LSU is going to have to try to win this game is trying to get to the outside. I don’t think they’re going to have much success trying to run the ball up the middle; the interior guard and center play has struggled with those runs. A lot of the running plays LSU has had success on has been on outside zones. The tackles have been doing a nice job of sealing those edges and letting Ty get to the outside. If they want to try to run the ball up the middle, more power to them. If they can get two yards per carry, that might be as good as they will do with that. They definitely still want to throw the ball, so establishing the run would be beneficial for both aspects of the offense. I personally don’t think they’ll get over 100 yards on the ground, but we’ll see what happens.

Brodtmann: What's the best thing LSU can do to try to slow down Alabama's offense? Has there been any commonalities in teams that have been competitive like Texas A&M and Tennessee?

Woods: I thought about this a lot, especially after the loss to Texas A&M. I think defenses try to slow down against Alabama. They play good coverage on the outside, and if the passing game can get taken out, you take away a good chunk of Alabama’s offense. Of course, stopping Brian Robinson is also a huge factor, as his running keeps defenders honest in the passing attack. A lot of that balance was taken away when Texas A&M played Alabama.

LSU’s secondary is really beat up, so I don’t think they’re going to be able to take away the passing game, so they have to try their best to limit Robinson and the run game.

Brodtmann: I think it's pretty evident who we are both going to pick, but how about a game prediction and an X Factor? Do you think that the Tide will cover? The line is currently at -28.5.

Woods: I think Alabama has a really good shot of covering. LSU just has so many players out and has been through so much this season. Meanwhile, Alabama is trying to finish out their season and make it to the SEC Championship game. If LSU does beat the spread, it’ll be because somebody gave up a late touchdown, and it caused Nick Saban to have an aneurysm on the sideline.

My X-factor is Brian Robinson. He’s been trending in the right direction in the past couple of games as a reliable back. It’s a credit to how well the offensive line has played as well. I think he’s going to tire out the LSU defense.

Brodtmann: I also expect Alabama to win and cover. If I had to pick an X-factor, I’ll go with Damone Clark. He’s been phenomenal this season. If there’s been one bright spot for the whole team, it’s been Damone. He has played himself into being a semifinalist for the Butkus Award. He’s a box to box linebacker in every sense of the word. He’s improved so much in his pass coverage this year. He’s a great tackler, he pursues the ball, and he’s everything anyone could want out of their linebacker. He’s got No. 18 on his back, so he’s been the leader all year for LSU. I feel like he’s going to have somewhat of an impact on Alabama’s offense for a little bit, but there’s only so much one player can do.

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