Players to watch against LSU

Players to watch against LSU

Alabama

QB Jalen Hurts 

There will be no tricks and no gimmicks. The LSU Tigers will come after Hurts and force the young quarterback to beat this defense through the air. In last year’s defensive slugfest, Hurts completed 10 of 19 passes for just over 100 yards. It was the first game that Crimson Tide fans saw their star signal caller struggle passing the football downfield against an elite defense. Luckily for Alabama, Hurts’ running ability was the difference. This season Hurts will not go toe-to-toe with such an elite defense, but as Crimson Tide fans know, never underestimate this rivalry game. Even though the passing stats won't blow away the unimpressible fans, Hurts has been exactly what the Crimson Tide needs: an efficient leader who takes care of the football and can beat the opposing defenses in more ways than one. Hurts has started and finished one game as the starter (Florida State), so look for a complete game from the sophomore as he looks to lead the Crimson Tide into the thick of the SEC schedule. 

LT Jonah Williams

It cannot be highlighted enough: every time the Crimson Tide offense goes up against an elite pass-rusher, Williams has answered the call and shut it down. And this week, as he prepares to line up against Arden Key, he will have to use all the tools in his arsenal to slow down the Tigers’ elite pass rusher. Key may only have 1.5 sacks this season, but his career total of 18.5 is enough to scare the best of any offensive lineman. Williams headlines an offensive line that has given up only 11 sacks all season. The LSU Tigers have combined for 26 sacks through nine games, which ranks second in the SEC. Aside from halting Key on passing downs, Williams and the rest of this line will face a rather inexperienced defensive front, with the exception of Key and nose tackle Greg Gillmore. Williams has a tough task in front of him protecting Jalen Hurts from Key, but run blocking will be the name of the game Saturday night for the Crimson Tide, who lead the SEC with 2390 rushing yards on the season. 

DT Isaiah Buggs 

The transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College has not just filled in for injured defensive lineman, he has cemented himself as a force on this defense. And this Saturday, expect the Ruston, Louisiana native to play with a little bit more fuel as he faces his home state university. The Crimson Tide will face one of the SEC’s best running backs in Derrius Guice Saturday night, so plugging in gaps and controlling the line of scrimmage will be crucial. Buggs is fourth on the team in tackles and is a big reason why this defense is stuffing opposing running backs to only 2.3 yards per carry. But Buggs is not just there as a run stopper. He has totaled just one sack so far this season but leads Alabama in quarterback hurries with six. If the Louisiana native gets loose against the Tigers' offensive line, expect him to add a few more numbers to that sack total. 

DB Minkah Fitzpatrick 

Yeah, Fitzpatrick very easily could be on this list every single week. But in a game of this significance, his skillset cannot be overlooked. Plus the fact that his name has been thrown into the mix as a possible new punt returner makes it especially necessary that Fitzpatrick is highlighted. Fitzpatrick was already high on most scout’s draft boards; now the junior playmaker is near or at the top of everyone’s big board. His ball skills make him a can’t-miss defender for quarterbacks. But over the last handful of games Fitzpatrick has shown his ability to stop the run. In his last four games Fitzpatrick has racked up five tackles for loss and has a sack. How can a player of this caliber become even scarier? Being a force in the run and pass game. Look for Fitzpatrick to be all over the field Saturday night. 

LSU

RB Derrius Guice

When last year’s superstar running back Leonard Fournette missed time due to an injury, many expected LSU to struggle running the ball. Guice, though, picked up right where the future No. 4 overall draft pick left off, leading the SEC with 1,387 rushing yards and 7.6 yards per rush. The junior from Baton Rouge has put up some eye-popping numbers in his career; last week against Ole Miss, he achieved his third career game with 250+ rushing yards. He is the only player in SEC history to have three such games, and all previous Tigers running backs combined only have two. Now firmly entrenched as the starter, he has battled through injuries and limited practice time to rank fourth in the SEC with 711 rushing yards. Head coach Ed Orgeron said a few weeks ago that getting Guice in a groove gives the whole team confidence. He has at least 15 carries in 13 of his last 15 games, so look for him to get the ball early and often.

LB Devin White

After recording 30 tackles and a sack last year and being named to the SEC All-Freshman team, White has become a difference-maker in his sophomore season. He comfortably leads the SEC with 80 tackles, eight more than the player in second place, and has twice been named SEC Defensive Player of the Week. He has shown his abilities in pass coverage as well; only one SEC linebacker has more pass breakups than White’s three. The LSU athletics website says the former four-star recruit possesses excellent footwork from playing both running back and linebacker in high school, which allows him to excel against the run and the pass. White made headlines Monday when he complimented Alabama by calling the Crimson Tide LSU’s “big older brother that [we] can never beat up.” Indeed, the Tigers have not beaten the Crimson Tide since the famed 9-6 game in 2011. He went on to add, “I feel now is the time to beat them up, beat them on the field.”

WR/KR D.J. Chark

By several metrics, Chark is one of the most explosive playmakers in the country. The Tigers coaching staff knew that after his first career touch, which he took 79 yards for a touchdown in the 2015 Texas Bowl. He is also the only player in the storied history of LSU football with both a 75-yard touchdown catch and a 75-yard touchdown run. With last year’s top-two receivers, Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, now in the NFL, Chark has embraced the No. 1 receiver role. His 535 receiving yards ranks third in the SEC; the second-most by an LSU receiver is 168. Even more impressive, Chark’s total has been accumulated on only 22 catches for a sparkling 24.3 yards per catch that ranks third in the FBS. He can be a threat on special teams too, as he ranks fourth in the FBS with 16.9 yards per punt return and is one of only seven players to return multiple punts for touchdowns this year. The Alabama secondary and punt coverage team will need to know where Chark is at all times or they’ll be chasing him from behind.

DE Christian LaCouture

The 6’ 5” fifth-year senior missed all of last season with a knee injury, but has set career highs across the board in his return this year. He had only 40 tackles in 13 games in 2014, and 35 in 2015, but has already racked up 49 in eight games this season, including a career-high 12 against Troy. The four most productive games of his career, in terms of tackles, have all come this year. His performance at the 3-4 defensive end position – 4.5 sacks in his last four games, matching his career output from his previous 35 games – has helped the Tigers defense rank eighth in the FBS in sacks. LaCouture is tied for the team lead in sacks with nose tackle Greg Gilmore, and his six tackles for loss trail only linebacker Devin White’s 7.5. Head coach Ed Orgeron announced in March that LaCouture would wear the prestigious No. 18 jersey this season, given to a player who exhibits exemplary leadership on and off the field.

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