Quarterback Jayden Daniels and LSU’s offense have been rolling up huge numbers this season, even in defeat.
The points and yards haven’t come so easily for Jalen Milroe and Alabama, but the wins have been coming just the same.
Daniels leads the nation’s top offense into Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night when the eighth-ranked Crimson TIde (7-1, 5-0, No. 8 CFP ) host the 13th-ranked Tigers (6-2, 4-1, No. 14 CFP). Both teams have been on hot streaks after shaky starts.
Some things remain the same in a rivalry where the winner has emerged as the SEC West champion 10 of the past 12 years.
“It’s physical. They got huge guys. We got huge guys,” LSU tight end Mason Taylor said. “And it’s just competitive and it’s just, like, different than any other game.”
Daniels is a Heisman Trophy candidate and LSU scored 49 points even in a loss to No. 11 Mississippi. The Tigers have averaged 53 points during their three-game winning streak since then. Daniels has weapons galore led by Malik Nabers, who leads the nation with 981 receiving yards, and Brian Thomas, who has a nation’s best 11 touchdown catches.
“They are the best team in the country on offense,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
His Tide offense isn’t on that level now that quarterback Bryce Young has moved on to the NFL. But Alabama does have a top 20 defense and is the only SEC West team without a league loss.
Alabama has won six straight to re-emerge as a playoff contender behind one of the SEC’s best defenses while Milroe and the offense have found their footing since he rode the bench in an anemic 17-3 win over South Florida.
Whatever their paths, LSU and Alabama always seem to be on a collision course in the SEC West. It’s the 18th time since 2002 they have met as ranked teams. LSU bumped Alabama from national contention with a 32-31 overtime win last season.
“I grew up watching the LSU-Alabama game my whole life and actually being able to play in it is going to be really fun,” said LSU running back Logan Diggs, a Notre Dame transfer.
Daniels has been the league’s best passer, but he also has run for 521 yards and five touchdowns this season. He has 2,694 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns in his five seasons at Arizona State and LSU.
NOT A RUNNER
Milroe knows his reputation coming into this season as a running quarterback. He hasn’t done much of it lately.
After running for 69 yards and two touchdowns against Mississippi State on Sept. 30, his rushing totals per game look like this: minus-31 (vs. Texas A&M), minus-19 (Arkansas) and 3 (Tennessee).
“It’s funny, everyone always mentions my running ability and everything like that, but in the offseason all I do is throw,” Milroe said. “I do zero training when it comes to running. My intent when I’m on the field is to throw the ball because the ball can get there faster than my legs can on any drive.”
LSU coach Brian Kelly complimented Milroe’s passing and the offensive improvement since early-season struggles.
“I think a lot of people were questioning his ability to throw it but he’s been effective, efficient, big plays,” he said.
Kelly’s decision to go for two points in overtime against Alabama last year resulted in the biggest win of his debut season in Baton Rouge. He chuckled when asked if he’d make a similar gamble again in “the exact same situation.”
“I felt like the game itself was such that our guys were executing at such a high level, that’s kind of what prompted that decision,” Kelly said. “From my perspective, it’s really about a gut feeling at the time more so than what’s a perfect scenario..”
KELLY & REES
Kelly is set to face Alabama’s first-year offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, his former starting quarterback and coordinator at Notre Dame. Rees played for Kelly from 2010-13, starting 31 games and finishing in the program’s top 3 in both passing touchdowns and yards. He was Kelly’s quarterbacks coach from 2017-22 and his OC their final three seasons together.
“He’s somebody that I’ve got a lot of respect for and what he’s done at Notre Dame and in a very short time taking an offense and transforming it quickly during the season,” Kelly said.
WINNINGEST ACTIVE COACHES
The two winningest active coaches in college football will be on opposing sidelines. Kelly leads the way in all-division wins with a 300-103-2 record, though only 182 wins came at the FBS level. Saban is next up at 292-70-1, though he’s the FBS leader. Kelly won 118 games at Division II Grand Valley State, including national titles in 2002 and 2003.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.
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