Pregame Alabama-LSU outlook: Some things have changed in a year

LSU head coach Les Miles, left, with Alabama’s Nick Saban after the Crimson Tide’s 21-0 win in the BCS National Championship Game. (AP photo by David J. Phillip)

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — When Alabama and LSU played last, the Crimson Tide gave up yards with about as much willingness as a dog gives up food.

Alabama turned in a dominating 21-0 defensive-minded win in the BCS National Championship Game. As the two teams prepare to meet again today in Baton Rouge, La., LSU’s Les Miles would like to offer a suggestion, if the Tide doesn’t mind too much.

“If I was them, I think I would use the same game plan,” he said. “It certainly worked once. I wouldn’t imagine they would change it much.”

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron ranks first nationally in passing efficiency. (AP photo by Butch Dill)

The game plan might or might not change, but plenty else has as the two teams face off for the first time since staging two of the most anticipated games of last season.

In both the regular-season contest and BCS game, LSU entered as the No. 1 team in the country, while Alabama was No. 2. Both finished the year with only loss each — to each other.

This year, the stakes remain high, but Alabama enters as the dominant No. 1 team, with the undefeated record and no victory this year by fewer than 19 points. LSU is ranked fifth but has lost a game to Florida. The Bengal Tigers’ three conference wins have come by a combined nine points.

“Every year’s a different year,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “They have a little different team. Little different players.”

The personnel has changed a bit, too. Alabama has lost six NFL draft picks off the defense and its top offensive threat, running back Trent Richardson, to the Cleveland Browns.

But for the Crimson Tide, the offense is expected to revolve around the same guy who shined in the BCS game: AJ McCarron. He threw for 234 yards in January and won the game’s offensive most valuable player award.

“The quarterback A.J. McCarron just seems to make all the throws,” Miles said. “He’s a quality leader. He’s thrown 18 touchdowns and no interceptions.”

For LSU, plenty has changed, too. Only five players are back who started both Alabama-LSU meetings last season: wide receiver James Wright, guard Josh Williford, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter and safety Eric Reid.

The top running back in the past two games has been true freshman Jeremy Hill, who has gone over 100 yards twice in a row. Before that, the Baton Rouge native received only 13 carries. Zach Mettenberger is the starting quarterback after sitting on the bench almost exclusively last season.

But in Saban’s mind, the changes aren’t major.

“They’ve still got great running backs and they’re still able to run the ball very, very effectively,” he said. “The line of scrimmage in this game, on both sides of the ball, is probably one of the most important factors in the game.

“They’re a ball-hawking, big-turnover type defense that creates a lot of negative plays for you. They still have really good explosive players on offense to make big plays down the field. If you’re trying to load up to stop the run, you create problems for yourself.”

The major difference between last season and today is that neither of those other games were played in Tiger Stadium, which will host the current matchup.

“We always enjoy playing in Tiger Stadium,” Miles said. “The environment that was there the last time we were there certainly is preferred. We’d like to have that again Saturday night against Alabama. Our team will enjoy playing this team. When you match yourselves versus a very quality opponent, it requires you to play best. Frankly, our guys will look forward to that.”

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