TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Danny Etling has figured it out in his relatively short time in the Southeastern Conference.
“In order to beat Alabama,” the LSU quarterback said, “you can’t be one-dimensional.”
Same goes for beating LSU. The top-ranked Crimson Tide brings the nation’s best run defense into Saturday night’s showdown with the 15th-ranked Tigers, who aren’t much kinder to opposing runners.
In a game featuring an impressive collection of running backs led by LSU’s Leonard Fournette, the quarterbacks and wide receivers are going to have to produce, too.
Brandon Harris and LSU couldn’t do it consistently last season against ‘Bama, and Fournette found scant running room against a defense that was able to load up for the run. This famously physical game won’t all be about muscle.
Neither team has a receiver ranked among the Top 10 in the SEC, but NFL prospects abound like LSU’s Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre and Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart and tight end O.J. Howard.
The quarterbacks are both making their debuts in the SEC West rivalry.
Etling has had more passing success since interim coach Ed Orgeron took over in late September and brought in offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. The Purdue transfer has had three straight 200-yard games and helped LSU set a school record for an SEC game with 634 total yards against Missouri.
It’s no coincidence that Tide coach Nick Saban believes the Tigers’ play action and vertical passing game have been more effective lately.
“And they’ve made a lot more explosive plays,” Saban said.
Alabama freshman Jalen Hurts has made his share, too, both running and passing. While he’s shown remarkable poise for an 18-year-old, Hurts has had some downfield misfires.
Saban said working on the timing for the passing game was a priority during the open date before this game. He figures LSU’s secondary is as athletic as any Alabama has faced.
Ridley said Hurts throws at least five deep balls to receivers after practice, whatever routes he wants to work on. Ridley’s numbers are down from a huge freshman season, but he still has 39 catches for 477 yards and four touchdowns.
“I catch a lot of balls after every practice,” Ridley said. “I guess that’s going to help us.”
The game certainly will feature an abundance of handoffs. Fournette and Derrius Guice are two of the SEC’s top runners. Alabama counters with a deep stable of tailbacks led by Damien Harris and Hurts, the team’s No. 2 rusher.
Neither team topped 200 passing yards in Alabama’s victory last season , but the Tide’s Jake Coker was far more efficient than Harris. Derrick Henry ran for 210 yards on his way to the Heisman Trophy many had expected Fournette to run away with before his 31-yard performance.
Etling’s emergence since replacing Harris as starter and the Tigers’ offensive changes have generated more of a passing threat. The quarterbacks will also have to contend with several of the SEC’s best pass rushers in LSU’s Arden Key and Alabama’s Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams.
“We think we can get some receivers down the field,” Orgeron said. “But we’ve got to be able to protect him long enough to be able to … get those plays down the field. That’s going to be the key to the game.”
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report
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