Saban: Haven’t faced challenge like LSU in 2018

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nick Saban says LSU will be the best team the Crimson Tide have faced this season, particularly on defense, and “it’s not even close.”

Alabama, which leads the country in scoring offense at 54.1 points per game, has played just one team this season ranked in the top 60 nationally in total defense, Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide beat the Aggies 45-23 and finished with 524 yards.

“LSU has a good scheme, guys in the secondary who go get the football, and [defensive coordinator Dave Aranda] is a really good coach,” Saban told ESPN. “We really haven’t been tested on offense, and sometimes you worry about things maybe being a little bit too easy and how you’re going to respond when things are much more difficult. There’s nothing we can do about it now, and that’s not the players’ fault. But as a coach, you always wonder how they respond to the challenge when things get tougher.”

Alabama has yet to go into the second half when the game is in doubt. The Crimson Tide’s average score at halftime has been 38.7 to 7.2, and sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has yet to take a snap in the fourth quarter this season.

“A lot of people are talking about all the things at stake in this game, but as a team, we’re thinking, ‘We’ve got to go in here and execute the way we can and the way the coaches want us to execute and we should be fine,'” Tagovailoa told ESPN. “It’s going to be a hostile environment, and I know this is going to be a really good test for us as a whole team. We’re looking forward to a challenge like this.”

Opposing defenses have been unable to get pressure on Tagovailoa this season, and when teams have blitzed him, he is 32-of-49 for 679 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 13.9 yards per attempt. LSU is ranked 22nd nationally in total defense, is seventh in scoring defense and is tied for the lead nationally in interceptions with 14.

Saban said this is as healthy as Tagovailoa has been since spraining his right knee against Arkansas on Oct. 6.

“He’s a lot better and has gotten better every week,” Saban said. “This week, you wouldn’t even know that he had anything wrong with him, but they still want him to wear that knee brace.”

Tagovailoa is no stranger to pressure situations after coming into the national championship game last season in the second half as a true freshman and rallying the Crimson Tide to an overtime victory over Georgia. But this will be his toughest test in a true road setting.

“I think he’ll be fine,” Saban said. “I do think how people play around you when you’re playing quarterback is really important. Is he not playing well because of him, or is it because we’re not getting them blocked up front? Or are we getting a lot of bad down-and-distance situations because we can’t run the ball, or are the receivers not getting open against better defensive backs? The quarterback always gets a lot of credit, and he always gets a lot of blame. And sometimes, in neither case is it totally justified.”

Saban said he has yet to see Tagovailoa get rattled in any situation. The 6-foot-1 sophomore has thrown 25 touchdown passes this season with no interceptions and just 45 incompletions.

“LSU does a little bit more multiple coverages in the secondary, which will be more challenging for Tua to read the right stuff, especially on third down,” Saban said. “They mix it up and disguise things and play a lot of zone but will show one thing and do another. He’s got to be able to read it to get it to the right people.”

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