College football forecast: LSU should finally test Tua, Tide

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

November 3, 2018 03:22 AM
Sophomore phenom Tua Tagovailoa has 25 touchdown passes and has yet to take a snap in the fourth quarter this season for the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
© USA Today Sports Images

Tua Tagovailoa is compiling a long list of impressive accomplishments, but there are at least two things the Alabama quarterback has yet to do this season and it’s a good bet he will do one of those things Saturday night.

For the first time in nine games, Tagovailoa will take a snap in the fourth quarter.

With the Crimson Tide rocking and rolling each week, Tagovailoa has been able to clock out early and take the final quarter off. Alabama’s average lead at halftime has been 38.7-7.2. The Louisiana State defense should put a dent in that lopsided trend.

Another thing Tua has yet to do is throw an interception. It’s tougher to bet on that trend ending. Tagovailoa has 25 touchdown passes and is 107-for-152 (70.4 percent), so incompletions are rare. The Tigers boast by far the best defense Alabama has faced since Tagovailoa led a second-half comeback to beat Georgia in the national championship game in January.

Underdog bettors are hoping this Southeastern Conference showdown lives up to the hype in the form of a game that remains competitive in the fourth quarter.

The Crimson Tide offense is scoring 54.1 points per game and the defense is allowing 15.9. That’s why the No. 1-ranked team is a 14½-point favorite over No. 3 LSU, which is in its biggest home underdog role since 1997. Alabama, a favorite in 115 of its past 116 games, has defeated the Tigers seven straight times by an average of 13 points per game.

Barring injury or a terrible night in Baton Rouge, Tagovailoa will hoist the Heisman Trophy in December. There might be a couple of NFL defenses (Oakland Raiders?) that would have trouble slowing Tua and the Tide.

LSU’s defense has surrendered only 15.1 points per game and smothered Georgia, which was a 7-point road favorite, in a 36-16 win three weeks ago. The Tigers match up reasonably well because they have a strong front seven and athletic defensive backs who can handle Alabama’s wideouts in press coverage.

As with any big underdog, there are real concerns, and here’s a big one — does LSU have the quarterback capable of pulling this off? Joe Burrow has completed just 53.8 percent of his passes with six touchdowns in eight games. It’s obvious, just as in the game against Georgia, the Tigers need to run the ball effectively and avoid falling behind early because Burrow is not a come-from-behind QB.

I have not bet this game yet but will play LSU getting 14½ if the line does not move to 15 by Saturday afternoon. This should be Tua’s first fourth-quarter sweat.


Eight more plays for Saturday:

* FLORIDA (-6) over Missouri: Tigers quarterback Drew Lock almost always looks ordinary against elite defenses. In a heartbreaking 15-14 loss to Kentucky last week, Lock failed to lead the Tigers to a first down in the second half. It’s hard to believe, but eight second-half drives resulted in eight three-and-outs. Missouri (0-4 SEC) must try to regroup against another strong defense in Gainesville. The Gators are allowing 19 points per game to rank 20th in the nation in scoring defense. Florida caught Georgia at the wrong time and took a 36-17 whipping in the rivalry game in Jacksonville. Gators coach Dan Mullen has a couple of concerns this week. One is fragile quarterback Feleipe Franks, who lost a fumble, threw a pick and passed for only 105 yards against the Bulldogs. The other is an injury to cornerback C.J. Henderson, who went down to further deplete a thin secondary. Lock is catching a break there, but he has a lot to prove here. This is a better spot for the home favorite.


* NORTHWESTERN (plus-10) over Notre Dame: It sometimes seems Pat Fitzgerald works with smoke and mirrors. Most numbers indicate the Wildcats are an average team, but a team that lost to Akron as a three-touchdown home favorite is in position to win the Big Ten West. And a Notre Dame team that opened the season as a home underdog is on track to reach the four-team playoff. The stakes are high, mostly for the 8-0 Fighting Irish, in Evanston. The Northwestern coach loves the underdog role. The purple ‘Cats are 4-0 against the spread as ‘dogs and 0-4 ATS as favorites. NFL-bound quarterback Clayton Thorson accounted for three touchdowns in a 31-17 upset of Wisconsin last week. The Badgers, however, were riddled with injuries and without their starting QB. Northwestern’s defense faces a much bigger challenge against the Irish, who are scoring 34 points per game. Brian Kelly made a shrewd coaching move when he switched quarterbacks and opened up his playbook for Ian Book. In a 44-22 victory over Navy in San Diego, Book passed for 330 yards as Notre Dame rolled up 584 yards of total offense. Book, who hit on 27 of 33 throws, improved to 5-0 as the starter. The line looked a little low when it opened Irish -7½, and early money on Kelly’s heroes has pushed up the number. There is no doubt Notre Dame has the defense and offensive firepower to win by double digits, but the Wildcats’ success as ‘dogs is undeniable.


* Other plays: Iowa (plus-3) over PURDUE; WAKE FOREST (plus-6) over Syracuse; TEXAS (-2) over West Virginia; Louisiana Tech (plus-23½) over MISSISSIPPI STATE; MICHIGAN (-11) over Penn State; San Diego State (-10) over NEW MEXICO.

Last week: 3-4-1 against the spread

Season: 35-28-2

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