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October 31, 2011

Notebook: Alabama-LSU to be won up front

TUSCALOOSA | The manner in which the University of Alabama has forged an 8-0 start to the season has, in many ways, resembled the way LSU has done the same.

Both have employed a physical style of football at the line of scrimmage; disruptive on defense, dominating on offense. And when the nation's two top-ranked teams collide Saturday, it's the line of scrimmage where an advantage will be won and lost.

UA coach Nick Saban said that while the Tigers have been outstanding up front on both sides, their play as a group has stood out more than particular individuals.

"The thing about this team is how they play as a team. They have a good offensive line. Their offensive line does a good job working together in unison. Their defensive front is physical, strong and fast on the edges," Saban said. "... It's hard to tell when they're playing -- they're all good players -- that one guy is a dominant player and somebody else doesn't do as well when they come in."

UA middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower, for one, is excited to face a more physical test.

"I always look forward to playing against Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU because they're more old school type teams," Hightower said. "They like running the ball downhill between the tackles. Not too much about the eye candy. I'm definitely looking forward to playing against those guys."

While players and coaches alike recognize the importance of the battle up front, statistics speak to its importance as well. In terms of time of possession, Alabama has held the ball, on average, nearly 33 of 60 minutes per game this season. LSU has held possession nearly 34 minutes per game. Alabama and LSU rank first and second in the SEC, respectively, in rush defense. They rank first and fourth, respectively, in rush offense. They rank at or near the top of the league in first downs on offense, and in allowing the fewest first downs on defense. In virtually any statistical measure of line-of-scrimmage play, Alabama and LSU have played at a high level.

"I love teams that try to come in and try to run the ball," said nose guard Josh Chapman. "Me being a nose guard, stopping the run is one thing I love to do. By doing that, you need to dominate the line of scrimmage and make the (opponent) one-dimensional."

Game Day Tuscaloosa-bound
ESPN's College Game Day will be in Tuscaloosa for Saturday's game, broadcasting from 8-11 a.m. The show typically sets up on the campus quad near Denny Chimes.

Quotable
"I think everybody should view the game as, these are two of the best teams playing, and how that game affects the future should not be relative to just who won and lost, but actually the quality of the teams." - Nick Saban on the possibility of Saturday's losing team remaining a part of the BCS title game picture.

Did you know?
Saturday's game is the first matchup of No.1- vs. No.2-ranked teams in Southeastern Conference regular season history.

Tidebits
Alabama defensive backs Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick were named semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award on Monday, which goes to the nation's top defensive back. Thirteen others remain in the running for the other, including five others in the SEC (Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt; Morris Claiborne, LSU; Antonio Allen, South Carolina; Brandon Boykin, Georgia; Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State). ... UA linebacker Alex Watkins practiced with a crimson jersey Monday rather than the black jersey he wore last week, which signifies non-contact status. Watkins broke his arm against Tennessee and his prognosis for return is two to three weeks.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase.goodbread@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0196.


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