Alabama rivalry with LSU continues to be at the center of college footballBy Matthew Speakman | 11/01/2017 10:47pm
On the first weekend of November, two college football powerhouses collide. It wasn’t always that way, however. Sure, Alabama and LSU have been big rivals for both program’s existence, but one thing changed in the late 2000s that set the rivalry on fire.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, just three years removed from coaching the Tigers. Since then, Alabama vs. LSU has been one of the nation’s biggest games.
“This game has turned into a huge rivalry through the years, since I've been here especially, but probably even before that,” Saban said. “Since 2007, I think, both teams have been ranked in the Top 20 in each one of these games that we've played. I don't think this one's really any different.”
Both teams are ranked in the top 20 once again this season, with Alabama at No. 2 and LSU at No. 19. At the heart of the rivalry is physicality. Both Alabama and LSU run the ball, and run it a lot.
The teams recruit size and speed that makes for a defense-oriented game. Winning the battle at the line of scrimmage typically wins the game for either Alabama or LSU. One glaring example is the 2015 matchup. In that game, Alabama held LSU to just 54 yards rushing, while conversely rushing for 250 yards. The Crimson Tide won, 30-16.
Alabama players know that this game is more physical than the rest.
“I think you hope that your team really understands what it takes to be more physical and play against a team that tries to be physical,” Saban said. “How important it is to win on the line of scrimmage. How important it is to be well-prepared and well-focused in the game.”
Most of these games come down to the wire as well. Since Saban arrived, the largest margin of victory is just 21 points. Eight of the 11 games that Saban has coached in have been decided by 10 or less points.
There have been iconic moments as well. Former Alabama running back TJ Yeldon scoring on a screen pass with less than a minute left is one. LSU winning a defensive, overtime battle in the “game of the century” is another.
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron is in his first season, but his Louisiana roots allow him to understand the importance of the rivalry.
“Born and raised in Louisiana, how can you not know that?” Orgeron said of the importance of the rivalry. “I mean, this is the game. Everywhere I go, they talk about this. This is the game.”
One major factor in the rivalry is recruiting. Alabama has been able to steal a lot of players from Louisiana, which has created resentment between the two fanbases. In the 2017 class alone, five players came from Louisiana, with defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis coming from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Other players, such as defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs, also come from Louisiana.
“Listen, I was recruiting Raekwon Davis, I was recruiting Isaiah Buggs,” Orgeron said. “They beat us on those guys. Those are the guys that we need to get, we need to beat them in recruiting.”
Orgeron knows the importance this game has on recruiting. Alabama has been able to extend its footprint into Louisiana because of the program Saban has built, and the Crimson Tide’s success over the Tigers.
“I think this is huge for us in recruiting,” Orgeron said. “I think this is huge because they have won the SEC, they have won national championships, they're on top of the world right now. This is the benchmark.”
Those players from Louisiana are just a little bit more to them. Buggs is one of those players. Losing guys to Alabama has hurt a lot of LSU fans.
"Woke up this morning to horrible messages from Louisiana fans," Buggs said on Twitter. "How could you wish such bad things on players, like i just dont get it."
With both teams having so much success recently, the rivalry will only continue to grow. It will continue to be the biggest game of the year from all of those players from Louisiana like Buggs.
“Yeah. I think all the LSU boys are pumped for the game,” defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne said. “I know Isaiah (Buggs) is. We try to make fun of them a little bit about it. I just know they’re going to be ready to go Saturday.”