One of the most anticipated games of the season is finally here as 6-2 LSU heads to Tuscaloosa to face 7-1 Alabama on Saturday. It’s a tale of strength versus strength, which makes this a highly intriguing SEC matchup.
LSU strength: Jayden Daniels
Daniels is one of the best quarterbacks in college football. LSU may have losses to Florida State and Ole Miss, but the production from Daniels is unmatched. The 6-foot-4 senior is on pace for nearly 40 touchdowns, 4,000 passing yards, 800 rushing yards and 10 rushing scores this season. He was the engine behind a comeback from a 22-7 deficit against Missouri, when he rushed for 130 yards and a TD to go along with 259 yards and three TDs passing.
Although LSU will not be making the playoffs, Daniels is worth the recognition and Heisman hype he is receiving.
Because the LSU secondary is one of the worst in the country (93rd), Daniels has had to showcase a multitude of talents to keep LSU competitive. He has the arm strength, can throw on the run and evades pressure well. Daniels is completing 67% of his passes of 20 yards and longer, which ranks first in the FBS. He also has 15 passing touchdowns from that range, the most in the FBS. He is a mobile QB so he has 17 sacks, but Daniels does avoid pressure well by producing the third-most scrambles in the country. It’s his athleticism and dual-threat mobility that makes him such a threat.
Alabama strength: defense
Alabama grades as the third-best defense in the nation, according to PFF, and it is backed by the seventh-best pass rush.
As solid of a defense Alabama has, we did see it get exploited by Joe Milton III of Tennessee. The Vols wrecked Bama's defense in the first half in Nick Saban’s house. Milton completed 69% of his passes at 11.4 yards per attempt for 126 yards, which led to 13 first-quarter points en route to a 20-7 halftime lead.
This is when we saw Bama's strength come into play. It shut down Milton in the second half, limiting the Vols to 109 total yards and zero points in a 34-20 win. This is the defense we know from Alabama.
Daniels is more mobile and consistent and much more of a deep-ball threat than Milton, but this is also the best defense LSU has seen this season. The next closest was Florida State (20th) in Week 1. The Seminoles allowed 346 yards but held Daniels to just one passing score as LSU lost 45-24.
Heisman and College Football Playoff implications
The Tigers did get the best of Alabama last year. If Daniels topples the Crimson Tide or has outstanding production in a close loss, he is very much in consideration for the Heisman Trophy. Despite the losses, we’ve seen this scenario before with quarterbacks invited to New York from a team that did not make the College Football Playoff. Some recent winners include Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson in 2016, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield in 2016 and USC quarterback Caleb Williams in 2022.
If Alabama can contain Daniels and win, then the playoff dream remains alive. The Crimson Tide would, of course, need to run the table and then defeat Georgia in the SEC championship game.
We’ve yet to see Alabama play a full four quarters of solid ball. For that reason, the over on 60 points makes sense. A win and three-point cover for Alabama is on the table, but hoping for fireworks in a fun, competitive matchup is my play. Daniels has no quit, wants to play spoiler and can certainly keep pace if needed.