Alabama vs Ole Miss

Alabama’s Reggie Ragland and Marlon Humphrey tackle Ole Miss’ Damore’ea Stringfellow.

TUSCALOOSA — Leonard Fournette had perhaps the best description of what the annual Alabama-LSU rivalry boils down to.

“It’s what I call a clash of the titans,” Fournette said last week, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. “It’s going to be a big one.”

With the debut of the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday making it a potential midseason play-in game with LSU at No. 2 and Alabama at No. 4, the stakes for Saturday’s primetime showdown have been raised even further.

But, outside of all the hype and implications, what has become one of the game’s most competitive rivalries over the last decade has been a credit to its place as a last bastion of traditional football.

“This is old-fashioned football. They’re going to run it, we’re going to have to stop it,” Alabama junior safety Eddie Jackson said. “If they throw it, we’re going to have to stop that. We’re going to run, (and) they’re going to have to stop that. It’s going to be a great matchup.”

Especially given the widespread similarities between the two premier SEC West programs.

“They’re similar to us, they’re tough, they like to run the ball and have a really good defense,” Alabama senior Geno Matias-Smith said. “I feel like it’s like playing ourselves, basically.”

This year’s game shapes up to be another very similar matchup, with both teams featuring elite-level defenses and strong, power run games highlighted by workhorse running backs. It’s strength-on-strength, good-on-good.

“They got some big physical guys, we got big physical guys, and it’s always been like that for years,” linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “(You) just gotta come out and be physical and mentally tougher. Whoever does their job the most is going to win this game.”

Ragland said that the traditional, grind-it-out matchups against teams like LSU — as opposed to the pass-happy, up-tempo offenses that have seemingly spread throughout college football — are taken as a personal challenge by many of Alabama’s players.

“If you’re a competitor, yeah. It’s all about doing your job and just being a man, cause this is a man’s game, especially against LSU,” Ragland said.

And while not necessarily a “traditional” rival of Alabama, LSU has certainly become one of its most intense games, and one players and fans alike circle on the calendar every year.

“This has turned out to be a great rivalry, and I think it’s a great rivalry because of the quality of the programs,” Saban said last week. “I think six or seven times since we’ve been here both teams are ranked in the Top 10.”

Of course, adding a bit to the rivalry are the annual postseason implications that the game usually carries with it.

It’s no different this season with LSU seeking to remain undefeated and solidify its place atop the SEC West, and Alabama eager to reassert itself as the West favorite following an early-season loss to Ole Miss.

“I mean you’re playing for all the things that you wanted to play for at the beginning of the year,” LSU head coach Les Miles said this week, according to “You’re playing for the lead in the West, and you put yourself with your achievement, this team in position to do so. So (players) should look forward to it. They should relish it. It’s why you came to LSU, to be a part of this game.”

That competitiveness seems to be what has set Alabama-LSU apart from other rivalries like Auburn and Tennessee.

In the last decade, the seven of the 11 games have been decided by a touchdown or less, including six of nine since Saban — who coached at LSU from 2000-04 — took the head job at Alabama in 2007, three of which went to overtime.

The latest of those overtime thrillers happened last season when the Tide drove 65 yards in the final 50 seconds of regulation to tie the game on a 27-yard field before former Alabama quarterback Blake Sims won it in the first overtime period on a 6-yard touchdown pass to DeAndrew White.

It’s games like last year’s that have many players on both sides eager for Saturday.

“I remember 2012 (when) it came down to the last second,” Tide senior center Ryan Kelly recalled. “(In) 2013 we had them at home and we played pretty (well). Last year I think we had a pretty good game, it just came down to that (last) minute drive where we had practiced that drive so many times — you get the ball in the fourth quarter, you have a minute to go, you have to drive the entire field.

“Just the poise that everybody showed. It’s been a great rivalry so far. Just looking forward to it.”

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