Who has the edge when Alabama passes?
Today is part 3 of our six-part position breakdown of Monday’s BCS national championship game, looking at Alabama’s passing attack.
Part 1 was a look at Alabama’s rush offense and Part 2 focused on LSU’s rush offense. Part 4 will be on LSU’s passing attack, Part 5 on the Tide’s and Tigers’ special teams and Part 6 on the two coaching staffs.
QB A.J. McCarron does what he is asked by Alabama coaches: He is a game manager who avoids mistakes.
There are some who dislike that moniker, but McCarron still fits that bill: He hands off, hits high-percentage passes in a conservative pass offense and avoids interceptions.
He has thrown for 2,400 yards, with 16 TDs and just five interceptions. But 10 of his TD passes came in just three games, with four against Vanderbilt and three each against Auburn and Georgia Southern. He threw for 199 yards, with no TDs and one pick, in the Nov. 5 loss to LSU.
McCarron has a nice arm, but doesn’t throw deep all that often.
The wide receiver group isn’t that good. Marquis Maze is the leading receiver, with 56 receptions for 627 yards, but he has just one scoring reception and it came in the opener against Kent State. He is the only wideout with more than 21 catches; Darius Hanks, the other starting wide receiver, has 21 receptions and one TD.
TE Brad Smelley is tied for second in receptions with 27 and leads the team with four TD receptions. Two of his TDs came against Georgia Southern. TB Trent Richardson is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield, and also has 27 catches and three TD receptions. He had a season-high five receptions for 80 yards against LSU in their first meeting.
Alabama has allowed just 15 sacks. Worth noting is that LSU DE Sam Montgomery had two of those when the teams met Nov. 5.
LSU has 37 sacks on the season, 13th-most nationally. Montgomery leads the Tigers with nine, and fellow E Barkevious Mingo has eight. In all, eight LSU linemen have at least one sack.
That line plays in front of the nation’s best secondary. LSU also has the best set of corners in the nation in Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. Claiborne is a classic cover corner, and Mathieu is a big-play machine who hits a ton. FS Eric Reid had perhaps the play of the game with his goal-line interception in LSU’s win over Alabama on Nov. 5, and SS Brandon Taylor is the Tigers’ No. 2 tackler. Tharold Simon and Ron Brooks see a lot of time in nickel and dime packages, and they have combined for four interceptions and 16 pass breakups.
[Pat Forde: Fertile recruiting ground fuels SEC domination]
LSU had at least one interception in every game except for its rout of Kentucky and had two picks in six games. The Tigers have allowed just two TD passes in the past seven games. The TDs were by Arkansas and Georgia, the teams with the best quarterbacks in the SEC.
The verdict: LSU gets the advantage here. Alabama is going to hit some passes – frankly, Richardson vs. LSU’s linebackers in pass coverage is a big plus for the Tide – but any big play would be a shock. Being able to use play action is important for the Tide, but even then, LSU will feel comfortable with its corners and nickel and dime backs matching up with Alabama’s wide receivers.
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