- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Don't turn away from the television set Saturday night. The violence you'll see when No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 LSU meet in Baton Rouge, La., is sanctioned. In the SEC, frankly, it's encouraged.
The Tigers and Crimson Tide have their fair share of skill players, but the real battle will be in the trenches. Inside the fog of clashing limbs and colliding muscle is where the game will be won, as it always has been with these two teams.
Alabama-LSU isn't a matchup of featherweights. It's Ali-Frazier, Tyson-Holyfield. It's heavyweights going right at one another, and it's arguably the best collection of maulers college football has to offer, with as many as 10 future NFL linemen between the two schools.
"Winning the line of scrimmage is probably the major factor in this game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday.
His undefeated Crimson Tide have won that battle every time this season. But the Tigers are unlike anything they've seen so far. The Tigers are a different kind of beast -- a bigger, meaner brand of opponent than the Mississippi States and Tennessees of the world.
"It's whoever bends and folds first," UA linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "We've got to make sure we're on our stuff and be ready for our power football, and they've got to be ready for ours."
The Crimson Tide's success on offense starts up front. It's where their balance comes from, as the Tide's rushing-to-passing yards ratio is separated by one-tenth of a percentage point. Load the box, and they'll pass protect. Spread out, and they'll run the ball downhill in a hurry.
"They come out, and when they set their minds, they can accomplish everything," said UA running back Eddie Lacy, who has run for 617 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
Barrett Jones has transitioned seamlessly from the defending Outland Trophy winner at left tackle last season to a nominee for the same award at center this season. Left guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker both project as high-round picks in next year's draft. Their cohort at left tackle, sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio, has the body of an All-Pro already.
"Alabama is definitely the best offensive line we'll face this whole season," said LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who has two of the Tigers' 23 sacks this season.
"They're very physical up front in terms of the run," Warmack said. "They rush hard in the pass. You're always looking for a challenge, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be a big game on Saturday."
The battle on the other side of the ball could be just as intriguing. Alabama's defensive line doesn't have the flashy sacks and tackles-for-loss stats because of Saban's 3-4 scheme, but it is certainly successful. Alabama is No. 1 in all four major defensive categories: pass defense, rush defense, total defense and scoring defense.
The defensive line is built to stop both the run and the pass. The former will come in handy against an LSU team that prides itself on a strong running game.
"They're still a powerhouse team," Mosley said. "If you don't stop them, they're going to keep running it down your throat."
Running the ball successfully will be key for LSU, but with the way Alabama's defense has played this season, it won't be easy, according to Tigers guard Josh Dworaczyk.
"To have a defense that can stop that, which is what Alabama does, is huge for them," he said. "Their success comes off of their defense and the way they play. Their offense is great, too. You can't take anything away from them. But the way their defense has been shutting people down is certainly impressive."
Impressive is one way to describe it. Violent is another. Just like the Tigers, the Tide win on defense by dominating the battle up front with tough, physical play.
When Alabama and LSU go head to head Saturday night, it will be strength versus strength, bigs versus bigs. It won't be pretty because it isn't meant to be.
It's how the SEC goes, and it's how Alabama and LSU like it.