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Clashes of the Titans

All eyes will be on Louisiana as it hosts the best games in college & pro football this weekend



associated press

 

Louisiana will take football’s center stage this weekend as the best games in college and professional football take place 80 miles apart in the state. On Saturday, College Football Playoff rankings’ No. 1 Alabama (8-0) comes to Baton Rouge to face No. 3 LSU (7-1). On Sunday, ESPN’s NFL Power Rankings’ No. 1 Los Angeles Rams (8-0) will head to the Big Easy to play the No. 3 ranked New Orleans Saints (6-1). Both contests have been heavily anticipated since the preseason and should have an immense impact on each team’s postseason aspirations.

Alabama comes into the weekend as the undisputed best team in college football. Even though they are playing the third-ranked team in the nation against LSU, they opened the week as 14-point favorites on the road, in hostile Tiger Stadium. The game’s line went up to 14.5, before falling to 13.5 mid-week. Still, that’s a huge chunk of points.

Through the first two months of the season, the Crimson Tide have played with machine-like efficiency. Bama is averaging 54.13 points, a gaudy 564.3 yards per game (216.9 rushing and 347.38 passing), while its defense is giving up 15.88 points and 307.9 yards (113.4 rushing and 194.50 passing) in each contest.

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been a revelation. He has completed 70.4 percent of his passes (107/152) for 2,066 yards – 13.59 per attempt, 258.25 yards per game – 25 TDs and zero interceptions. His top five targets have a minimum of 21 receptions on the season and are each averaging more than 17.5 yards per catch, with Jerry Jeudy compiling 31 receptions for an eye-popping 777 yards (25.1 yards/grab) and 10 touchdowns. Their ground attack, led by Najee Harris (78 carries for 489 yards, 6.3 yards per carry average, and 30 TDs) has gained 1,735 yards on 322 attempts and 21 TDs, and includes four backs who have at least 55 carries this season.

LSU is averaging 30.4 points and 383.6 yards per game, but its offense is reliant on successfully running the ball. Tiger backs have gained 1,525 yards on 352 attempts, an average of 4.3 yards per carry and 190.6 yards per game, and 19 TDs. Nick Brossette has led the ground attack with 151 carries for 697 yards, a 4.6 yard/carry average, and 10 touchdowns.

Quarterback Joe Burrow has completed 120 of the 223 passes he’s thrown for a 53.8 percent completion percentage, 1,544 yards (6.92 per attempt, 193.0 yards per game), 6 touchdowns, and 3 picks.

The Tigers defense is giving up an average of 15.1 points and 330.2 yards (130.5 rushing and 199.8 passing) per game. LSU has amassed 14 interceptions, with Grant Delpit (5), John Battle (3), and Greedy Williams (2) combining for 10 picks.

Alabama is, no doubt, formidable. While they have playmakers all over the field that would make this an intriguing matchup on any occasion, LSU fans feel added impetus to defeat their former head coach and current Alabama leader Nick Saban.

For the Tigers to be successful, they will have to put together their best effort of the year in all phases of the game. The defense will have to be stout and keep Bama’s offense on the sideline. The offense will need to control time of possession and finish drives by putting points on the board, If the Purple & Gold prevail, there is a great chance that both teams could advance to the College Football Playoff at the end of the season. If LSU loses and doesn’t get additional help through the remainder of the season, it will be tough for the Tigers to make the playoff. They should be favored to win the rest of their games, and it will still be an unexpectedly good season considering the turmoil the team faced in the preseason. 

Sunday’s matchup in the Superdome features the best two teams in the NFC, two top 10 offenses, and two of the most aggressive play callers in the NFL with Saints head coach Sean Payton and the Rams head coach Sean McVay.

The Saints are at a good point in the season. They’ve won six in a row after losing the season opener, have the celebrations of Drew Brees’ numerous records and milestones in their rearview mirror, and can focus on the game at hand. While the Rams have looked like a team of destiny this season, the Saints have, somewhat quietly, proven themselves to be one of the best teams in the NFL. This week’s game has serious postseason implications, as it could determine who will be the top seed with home field advantage in the conference playoffs.

L.A. has the No. 2 ranked offense in the league. In eight games they are averaging 33.0 points, 442.6 yards (291.8 passing, 150.9 rushing), 25.2 first downs and 32:02 in time of possession each game. They are converting 46 percent of their third down chances and 57 percent on fourth down.

The Saints offense is ranked No. 8 in the NFL. In seven games, New Orleans has averaged 33.4 points, 389.9 yards (281.9 passing, 108 rushing), 24.4 first downs and 32:06 in time of possession each game this season. They have converted 42 percent of their third down opportunities and an amazing 88 percent on fourth down.  

While the offenses are evenly matched, the Rams have an edge on defense. Ranked 8th in the NFL, L.A. is giving up an average of 19.4 points, 331.4 yards and 17.6 first downs per game. Opponents are converting 40 percent of their third downs, 57 percent on fourth down, and are holding on to the ball for an average of 27:58. Most notably, the Rams are +7 in turnover margin, averaging almost one a game.

The Saints D ranks 23rd in the NFL and is giving up, on average, 26.1 points, 371.4 yards, and 22.6 first downs each game. Opponents are holding the ball for 28:55 each game and converting 43 percent on third down and 54 percent on fourth.

On paper, it looks like the Rams are the better team, but, at midweek, the experts favor the Saints by a point. The Black & Gold have the home field advantage and are 9-2 in their last 11 games in the Superdome. Much like LSU, the Saints will have to be on this weekend to claim victory. They are coming off of an impressive road win against the Minnesota Vikings, and a follow-up win against the Rams would be a huge momentum builder. No matter the outcome, though, the Saints will be at the half-way point of their season after this game. There is still a lot of ball to be played, including four games against division rivals, two of which are against Carolina, which, at 5-2, is one game behind the Saints in the NFC South Division race.

There is a lot riding on the state’s two favorite football teams’ games this weekend. Fans will need to be loud. Tiger Stadium will need to be Death Valley. The Superdome will need to be loud enough to take the Rams off of their game. It will be a fun football weekend. Let’s hope a combination of wins help to make it an unforgettable one.      

           

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Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he's not writing, he's avid about music, the outdoors and Saints, Ole Miss & Chelsea football. He lives in New Orleans with his wife, two girls and three Labradors. In addition reporting on New Orleans sports, he is looking forward to Biz’s assignment to cover the Mint 400, “The Great American Off-Road Race.”

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