LSU’s defense has sort of been going against a scout team for Alabama every day since the start of preseason camp in August.
The Tigers face their own offense, featuring a good, strong offensive line that blocks for a powerful running back, much like what it will face Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. But all that practice against their own power running game hasn’t paid off much in games while the defense has been chasing around the likes of Oregon and West Virginia.
Mississippi State, Florida, Tennessee and Auburn provided glimpses of it, but LSU hasn’t faced anyone as strong and committed to a power running game as itself - until now.
“We’re ready to get to that,” Tigers safety Brandon Taylor said, “because through the whole camp, we were banging each other up, and now we get to hit on other people.”
Primarily, that means they get to hit on - and get hit by - Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson, the leading rusher in the Southeastern Conference and possibly the best running back in the country. Richardson, 5-foot-11, 224 pounds, has rushed for 989 yards (an average of 6.6 per carry) and 17 touchdowns. He’s equally comfortable running over, around or away from defenders of all shapes and sizes.
“The most dangerous thing is when you combine speed with power,” LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “And Trent Richardson has both of those things.”
When asked what he has seen from Richardson on tape, Montgomery said, “Greatness, nothing less. His moves are so incredible. He’s a really great player.”
In a game featuring mostly defensive stars, Richardson might be the most talented offensive player on either team. The Tide offense is understandably built around him, and he runs behind a big, experienced line anchored by tackle Barrett Jones and center William Vlachos..
“These guys are tough,” Montgomery said. “They’re not your average offensive line.”
LSU’s offensive line isn’t average either, and it will be at full strength Saturday for the first time since the third game of the season.
Tigers defensive tackle Michael Brockers said he sees a similarity in how the Tide uses its line and running game and how the Tigers do the same.
“When you look at how physical they are up front, that reminds me (of our offense),” he said. “They try to pound you and wear the defense down until they can get ahead in the game, and then they just pour it on you.”
Alabama leads the SEC with an average of 229 rushing yards per game, and LSU is fourth with an average of 189.
Though the Crimson Tide will spell Richardson with former Dutchtown High standout Eddie Lacy and others, they are more dependent on Richardson than LSU is on Ware.
Richardson has 47 percent of Alabama’s carries, and Ware has 36 percent of LSU’s. The Tigers’ second- and third-leading rushers - Michael Ford and Alfred Blue - have a greater percentage of their team’s carries than their Tide counterparts. Also, freshman Kenny Hilliard may have added a fourth Tiger to the mix after rushing for 65 yards and two touchdowns in his first extensive playing time while Ware was held out of the win against Auburn two weeks ago.
LSU offensive linemen T-Bob Hebert called the Tigers’ running back depth “an embarrassment of riches.”
“They try to run the ball,” Alabama nose guard Josh Chapman said. “They’re stubborn about it.”
LSU guard Will Blackwell said Ware, 5-11, 223, reminds him of Stevan Ridley, the Tigers’ 1,000-yard rusher from a year ago who is now with the New England Patriots.
“He runs very hard,” Blackwell said. “He runs to contact instead of away from contact, much like Stevan Ridley. They’re not interested in juking you or running around you. They want to go through you. It’s exciting to watch that.”
“There’s a great physicality on our offense right now,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “It’s at all our positions. Spencer Ware brings 225 pounds to the table, and that’s important. because football is a physical sport, and he plays that way. He has great vision, is very physical, and runs with a passion.”
Alabama’s defenders, like LSU’s, said they relish going against a team whose offense has the same approach to the running game as theirs does.
“I love a team that tries to come in and run the ball,” Chapman said. “Being a nose guard, stopping the run is one thing I love to do. We have the mentality we’re going to dominate for 60 minutes. We’re going to stop the run. We’re going to make you one dimensional.
“That’s football - going out there running the ball and trying to stop the run. Like coach says, you take the scoreboard away and you find out at the end of the game who wins just by people’s demeanor.”
Advocate sportswriterScott Hotardcontributed to this report.