Tide, Tigers loaded up front

Battle in trenches will be a matchup to watch Saturday

Originally Published: October 31, 2012
By Edward Aschoff | ESPN.com

If you're looking for the secret formula the SEC has used for the past six seasons to collect all those national championships, tune into Alabama-LSU on Saturday night.

You'll see exactly what separates the SEC men from college football's boys when you look at what these teams are hoarding up front.

Coaches outside the league cringe at the sight of the lines in the SEC, and two of the best face off when No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0) takes on the fifth-ranked Tigers (7-1, 3-1) under the bright lights of menacing Tiger Stadium.

[+] EnlargeSam Montgomery
AP Photo/Paul Abell Sam Montgomery expects his biggest challenge of the season against Alabama's line.

The Crimson Tide has arguably the nation's best offensive line, and LSU is equipped with the most well-rounded defensive front. Both are littered with NFL talent, as nine players could be drafted in the first three rounds of future NFL drafts. Eight might go in the first two rounds, including six next spring.

Watching these two fronts try to wear each other down will be like watching two sledgehammers try to beat each other into dust. The one with the least dents probably will deliver the winner Saturday night.

"Like any player, you love playing the best," said LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo, who leads the Tigers with nine quarterback hurries. "For me, I like being challenged and going against great players. I look forward to it."

These lines certainly made strong statements in both games last season. In Game 1, LSU's defensive line held the Tide to its only game with fewer than 100 yards rushing (96) and registered two sacks.

But in the Allstate BCS National Championship, Alabama's offensive line dominated. Alabama ran for 150 yards (the most given up by LSU last season) and quarterback AJ McCarron threw for 234 yards.

Both lines look almost identical to the ones that met twice last season, and both are out to dismantle the other.

"I actually look forward to playing them, because it's such a deep challenge," said end Sam Montgomery, who leads LSU with four sacks and has nine tackles for loss.

"In big-time games I love to go all out; I love the competition. I love the extreme level of play -- one mistake could cost the whole game. So it's one of those things where everybody has to be on their P's and Q's."

Montgomery and Mingo entered the 2012 season as the top-rated end duo in the nation. They combined for 17 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss last season and had first round splattered on them. Inside of them, you have freakish sophomore Anthony Johnson, who is getting a ton of NFL scouting love, and veteran Bennie Logan, who has always been extremely disruptive.

Montgomery has the relentless attitude, while Mingo is equipped with fearsome speed. Logan and Johnson just push linemen around with their strength and girth. Add sophomore tackle Ego Ferguson and end Lavar Edwards, and you have 32.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks this season.

[+] EnlargeJones
AP Photo/Paul Abell Don't expect Barrett Jones and a talented Bama offensive line to get rattled at Tiger Stadium.

But Alabama's offensive line is only getting better. With a center-guard trio of Barrett Jones, the nation's best center, Chance Warmack, who could be a top draft pick in April, and Anthony Steen, consistently penetrating the middle against the Tide has been near impossible. Alabama has been at its best running through the middle, and with Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker, who are both projected to be high future draft picks, manning the outside, it also has been tough to rattle McCarron.

Alabama owns one of the nation's most balanced offensive attacks (1,776 yards passing/1,715 rushing) and is averaging 6.8 yards per play.

"As the weeks go by, we're starting to click, all five of us at the same time, and that's what's really important when it comes to that offensive line," Warmack said. "Everybody knows what the other person is going to say. We can make calls for each other, whether you're on the right side or the left side, and that's what the main thing is all about: cohesiveness."

As talented as LSU is up front and as deafening as Death Valley is, it's hard to faze a line that is cluttered with NFL talent and owns 135 starts.

"They come out and when they set their minds, they can accomplish everything," Alabama running back Eddie Lacy said. "They're getting better as the season's been going along, so this week shouldn't affect anything."

It'll be the ultimate grudge match in the trenches Saturday, and no one will escape unharmed from this dog fight.

"The only way I prepare for it is, I start off saying this whole week, 'It's going to be a game where I have to play one through four quarters, and I'm not going to come out of this game without bruises and bumps on me,'" Montgomery said. "I have to set up in my mind, Monday to Saturday, that it's coming, and there's no need to think it's going to be any other way. It's going to be a fight to the end."