BATON ROUGE — Alabama quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young is considered the best player in college football.
But when Young and his Alabama teammates travel to Baton Rouge this Saturday to take on LSU football (6 p.m., ESPN), that won’t be LSU’s biggest potential problem.
That problem is on the other side of the ball, where the Tigers’ offensive line will need to contain Alabama’s elite pass rush.
No team in the country has as much defensive talent as Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC). Junior linebacker Will Anderson is a future top-5 NFL draft pick and according to Pro Football Focus, he has 37 pressures this season after recording 17.5 sacks last year. Across from him, sophomore Dallas Turner has 24 pressures after recording 8.5 sacks a season ago.
“(Anderson) is an elite defensive player, not only in terms of his ability to rush the passer, but what they ask of him as an unselfish player,” Tigers coach Brian Kelly said during his weekly press conference Monday. “He plays the four-technique, he plays the five-technique. He positions himself. He does a little bit of everything, a lot of different jobs. That’s why he’s going to be a great NFL player as well.
“On the other hand, Turner, playing in the boundary is an excellent footballer. You can’t say ‘hey, we’re going to cheer and slide to one side’.” You have problems on both sides.”
The depth behind them is also extraordinary. Junior Chris Braswell has 19 tackles and senior linebacker Byron Young has 16.
Alabama’s explosiveness and depth create problems for any program’s offensive line. However, the power of the Tide on the edge is a particular problem for LSU (6-2, 4-1), which deploys freshmen Will Campbell and Emery Jones for points every game.
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Since becoming LSU’s starting combination in Week 3, Campbell and Jones have been better than expected for the two rookies, especially Campbell. He allowed just six pressures and no sacks in SEC play, while Jones allowed four sacks and 18 pressures on the season.
But Alabama will be their toughest challenge yet. And given their status as rookies, it wouldn’t be realistic to expect them to hold up in one-on-ones against Anderson or Turner for most of the game.
Therefore, the priority against the rush will be shifting the pocket, using tight ends and running backs who help block ‒ like running back Josh Williams, who is especially skilled as a pass blocker ‒ and getting the ball out quickly.
“I think you have to use diagrams to help you solve,” Kelly said. “Like I mentioned, whether it’s a tight end or a running back, or you’re sliding the protection in there. But like I mentioned, they’re pretty good on both ends.
“So the ball has to come out quickly. We have to realize that we’re not going to be able to sit in the pocket and just go through five progressions.”
LSU may be getting some help on the line as sophomore guard Garrett Dellinger works through a knee injury. It’s day-to-day, but Kelly added that he thinks he can be ready in time for Saturday’s game.
The Tigers will need him and A+ performances from other pass blockers, offensive lineman or not. Because even if none of them are named Bryce Young, Alabama’s pass rushers pose LSU’s biggest threat on Saturday.
Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser and USA TODAY Sports South Region. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @KokiRiley.