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3:17 left in the second quarter. LSU ball, first-and-10 at its 39
LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson ran the option play to his right. Just as linebacker Dont'a Hightower hit him, Jefferson pitched the ball to running back Michael Ford, who turned the corner and gained nine yards. The previous play had also been an option pitch to Ford, and it had gone for 15 yards. That time the Tigers had gone left.
"LSU loves to call the same play twice, only the second time they'll run it to the opposite side," says one coach. "They'll do that a few times a game, especially with the option if they have some success with it. And the only way to run on Alabama is to get outside. Our film work showed that you can have some success there."
The strength of the Tide defense is in the middle with Hightower, 310-pound nosetackle Josh Chapman and free safety Mark Barron. With those three All-SEC defenders leading the way, Alabama has been virtually impossible to attack between the tackles. On Nov. 5, the Tigers mustered only 148 rushing yards (on 41 attempts). That's largely because LSU this season has been predominately a "direct-run" team, meaning the Tigers like to hand the ball to their backs on power plays designed to go off-tackle. But LSU gained 50 yards using the option in the first matchup, and the play's worth was validated by an FCS school that also faced the Tide.
Two weeks after the LSU game, Georgia Southern, running an option-based offense, consistently beat the Alabama defenders to the edge. The Tide won 45--21, but the Eagles ran for 302 yards and averaged 7.7 yards a rush. "If I'm calling the plays against Alabama," says one of the coaches, "I test the outside early and often with the option."
11:47 left in the third quarter. LSU ball, third-and-nine at its 33
As Jefferson called the signals, tight end Chase Clement and wide receiver Russell Shepard moved from the left side of the formation to the right. Seven Tide defenders reacted by shifting positions as well, and Jefferson was clearly confused. "You tell your quarterback to throw to the open grass—or open space—and you tell your receivers to get there," says a coach. "But with all the presnap shifting that Saban does, the quarterback doesn't know where that space will be." The Tide dropped five players into coverage and rushed six. With less then 2.5 seconds to throw, Jefferson was sacked by linebacker Courtney Upshaw for a three-yard loss.
"The extended time to prepare for the game is a huge advantage for Saban," says a coach. "LSU doesn't do anything fancy on defense. They line up and say, 'Beat us.' But Alabama plays an NFL type of scheme. They say, 'Not only will we beat you with our athletes, but we're also going to out-scheme you.' "
Bottom line: Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will use several new blitz schemes that were designed in the 43 days they've had to prepare for the title game. Expect the blitzers to mostly come from Jefferson's right side, because the video shows that Jefferson struggles with his accuracy when he's forced to move to his left.