- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW ORLEANS -- When Alabama’s defensive players think about Round 1 with LSU, all those blown assignments in the running game stand out.
LSU was one of only two FBS teams to rush for more than 100 yards against Alabama’s defense. The Tigers rushed for 148 yards on 41 carries and wore down one of the best front sevens in the nation.
No matter how good or gritty the defense is, it’s tough to stop a running game that throws fresh legs out there like LSU does. The Tigers can have four to five backs carry the ball on any given drive. It keeps the Tigers’ legs fresh and defenders exhausted.
“It’s hard for teams to prepare for us because they don’t know who they’re going to get or what they’re going to get,” said LSU running back Michael Ford, who led the Tigers with 72 rushing yards against Alabama in November.
Tide players are certainly giving LSU’s backs their due. They understand that those guys can play. But they feel some of their own mistakes definitely helped get the Tigers rolling.
Players were out of position. Running gaps weren’t filled. Jobs didn’t get done.
“We had guys in the right spot, but then we’d have another guy who’s not,” Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw said. “It’s on all 11 players on defense to get to the ball and be in the right spot.”
The most frustrating part for players is that stopping the run is what Alabama does. Alabama leads the nation in rushing defense and is giving up just 2.5 yards per carry.
Defensive tackle Josh Chapman said the key is to own the big uglies up front and force LSU to throw. The more teams try to beat Alabama through the air, the more mistakes are made.
“We have to go out and create a new line of scrimmage,” Chapman said. “One thing we do try to do is make teams one-dimensional, and that’s by throwing the ball. Once you throw the ball, our DBs have a mindset that once it’s in the air, it’s ours.”
But that won’t be so easy with this LSU team. The Tigers have yet another running threat that creates a supreme multiheaded backfield monster.
When asked what Alabama’s defense had to account for most during Monday’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game, linebacker Dont’a Hightower emphatically said two words: Jordan Jefferson.
“He’s their MVP,” Hightower said. “He’s the reason why they’re doing so good right now.”
He’s become such a weapon because he has the ability to run. He can squirm his way out of tough situations when the pocket collapses, opening up running lanes and passing plays.
Defensive breakdowns helped Jefferson be successful on designed runs, options and wild scrambles. Tide players are particularly worried about the option because it brings the element of Jefferson running AND one of the many running backs right back into the picture.
For Alabama’s defense to be successful in stopping LSU’s rushing attack, which led the SEC with 220.4 yards against league opponents, Hightower said it comes down to closing in on rushing lanes, filling gaps and throwing in some tricky defensive looks to confuse Jefferson.
When Jefferson keeps the ball, it’s all about containment.
“I feel like once you keep a dual-threat quarterback inside the pocket, I feel like he’s kind of done,” Hightower said.
LSU’s ground game can hurt Alabama in so many different ways. From Jefferson’s legs, to runners that average well over 220 pounds, LSU’s backfield is a physical force that overpowered Alabama the first time.
Well, Hightower says bring it. Hightower is excited for his shot at redemption and wants to prove that Alabama is just as tough.
Hightower wants that robust running game to come right at this defense.
“I like power guys,” he said. “I don’t like chasing the guys who run the 4.23s. I don’t like that. I’d rather them line up in the I-formation and just run at me.”