Tide secondary faces big challenge against LSU
For one of perhaps three or four times this year, the Alabama Crimson Tide take the field against a team which can (and has) matched them in terms of talent and intensity.
While LSU has two losses and isn't a threat for the national title, it sure could hurt Alabama's chances for a third straight BCS crown by beating it Saturday night in Tuscaloosa. In some ways, the Tigers being out of the national title picture might make them more dangerous than in previous meetings.
LSU coach Les Miles doesn't mind taking chances when the field is tilted towards his team in terms of talent, let alone when things are equal or slightly against it. With two good receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, the Tigers might be in attack mode from the get-go.
"The combination of those two guys are as good a receivers as we've played against all year long," Tide coach Nick Saban said. "Not the same style as the Texas A&M guys, but very quick, very athletic. These two guys, to me, are the most challenging group that we've played against all year long."
Beckham's 1,009 yards ranks second among SEC receivers only to A&M's Mike Evans, while Landry's 882 yards puts him at fourth. The duo has teamed for 106 receptions and 16 touchdowns, clearly benefitting from improved play by quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
That will put pressure on cornerbacks Deion Belue, Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson and John Fulton. Many experts think this is still the defense's weak spot, even though the Tide hasn't given up a meaningful big play since allowing 42 points to A&M back in September.
"They do a good job of putting them in various positions that makes them difficult to cover and get the kind of matchups on that you'd like," Saban said of Beckham and Landry. "The quarterback is very accurate in knowing where he wants to go with the ball."
However, LSU doesn't have the same dominant defense it's possessed for several years and will have matchup problems when dealing with the Alabama offense. Ultimately, that could weigh the scales back towards the Tide in a game that could shape the BCS title picture.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--QB AJ McCarron has been picked as one of 16 semifinalists for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award. McCarron is quietly enjoying another great year, completing 69.4 percent of his passes through eight games for 1,862 yards and 16 TDs with just three interceptions. As a starter, McCarron boasts a career record of 33-2.
--WR Christion Jones took over the FBS lead in kickoff returns when he averaged 53 yards on two runbacks against Tennessee on Oct. 26. Jones has returned 13 kickoffs for 425 yards, a 32.7 yard average, and ran one back 94 yards in the season opener against Virginia Tech. Jones is also averaging 12 yards on 17 punt returns.
--WR Amari Cooper was supposed to be the go-to receiver before the year started, but has just 20 catches for 300 yards. That's not been an issue, though, because three other receivers -- Jones, Kevin Norwood and DeAndrew White have combined for 72 receptions, 958 yards and eight scores. That kind of depth is what separates the Tide from almost every other program.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We like the matchup. We think that we kind of give them some challenges on the perimeter." -- LSU coach Les Miles to Nola.com about the matchup between his wide receivers and the Tide secondary.