Published November 1, 2011 - 6:50am
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Quarterback – Edge LSU
While AJ McCarron has played pretty steady this year, I would say LSU has been slightly better this season. LSU’s passing efficiency is better (162.4 to Alabama’s 144.1), and LSU has thrown for more touchdowns as well (16 to 10). While McCarron likely has thrown for more yards than Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson combined, LSU’s passing offense is really good when they incorporate play action and when they are running the football with authority. Jarrett Lee has been superb this season under tough situations, from all of the offseason talk about Jordan Jefferson to getting thrown into the fire in the first game of the year against Oregon. Yeah, I know he’s a fifth-year senior, and you can argue that he wasn’t exactly throw into the fire because that is more of a term used when a true freshman or redshirt freshman gets thrown into the mix right away. I think the job Jarrett Lee has done this year is the comeback-player-of-the-year type of performance. I also like the way Les Miles is using Jordan Jefferson. The truth be known, Miles was looking ahead to Alabama knowing they will need both quarterbacks to win. Lee might not be able to beat the Tide through the air, and that is where Jefferson can add a different style on the ground and through the air to get the ball moving some on offense. I like the way these two complement each other, but I am cautiously optimistic at how they are being used throughout this season.
Now, I’m not taking anything away from McCarron, because he is an efficient quarterback, and he has done everything Nick Saban and Alabama has asked him this year. But up to this point, I would give LSU the edge at quarterback because Lee has been really good, and Jefferson adds another playmaker at the position and a different dimension.
Running Back – Edge Alabama
There is little doubt Trent Richardson possibly has the brightest future of anyone who will be on the field this weekend. He is in the top three right now for a Heisman in the country, and a good performance against the Tigers, along with a victory, could give him the boost he needs to win the award. Richardson is tied for the league lead in rushing with Michael Dyer with 989 yards, has a terrific 6.6 yards per carry average, and leads the SEC with 17 touchdowns. Now, I really like the rushing attack of Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Alfred Blue present for LSU. Ware is going to be terrific for the remainder of this year and his career, but the addition of freshman Kenny Hilliard could be the X-factor in this game for LSU. I think Hilliard gives LSU a viable power runner than no one else in the SEC has except for Alabama. With that being said, not one of the four are even close to being as good as Trent Richardson right now. The edge has to go to Alabama.
Wide Receivers – Edge LSU
LSU’s wide receiving corps has really stepped up its game this year for the Tigers. Rueben Randle is third in the SEC in receiving with 638 yards and seven touchdowns. Randle is leading the SEC in yards per catch with 19.3 yards per catch. Along with Randle, freshman Odell Beckham has stepped up in crucial situations this year, especially with Russell Shepard being out for the first few games. Beckham has caught 27 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns. Beckham is lightning quick in the open field, and he has been the speedster on the outside for the Tigers. Tight end Deangelo Peterson has caught 12 balls for 133 yards and one touchdown as well.
While Alabama uses the running backs more in the passing game than the Tigers, it adds a solid dimension in the passing game. Marquis Maze is Alabama’s leading receiver, as he has caught 39 passes for 482 yards and one touchdown. Darius Hanks has caught 18 passes for 230 yards as well. Trent Richardson, Brad Smelley, Kenny Bell and DeAndrew White have all caught more than 10 passes.
However, I think Randle is arguably the best deep threat in the SEC this year. He’s not that fast, but he can be physical with corners, and he uses his body very well. I know some might disagree with me, but I think Randle is, pound for pound, the best receiver in the SEC this season. He has proven the ability to get open, and he catches the football when it’s thrown to him. Beckham and Russell Shepard can take one to the house if they get loose on the outside to give them a different dimension and type of receiver than Randle. Now, he hasn’t faced a defense or corners like Alabama yet, but I still like Randle and this LSU receiving corps.
Offensive Line – Push
Since Alabama is the No. 1 rushing offense in the SEC and the top overall offense in the SEC statistically, one would automatically think they are the best offensive line also. While Alabama has some maulers up front, LSU’s offensive line has given up the fewest sacks in the SEC with seven, five better than the next best team – Alabama. Trent Richardson makes the rushing offense really go, but Alabama’s offensive line led by Barrett Jones and William Vlachos are maulers up front who really help Richardson to get to the next level. He does the rest from there.
While Alabama’s offensive line will get more pub, LSU’s offensive line has been just as good. Senior center PJ Longergan, T-Bob Hebert and William Blackwell have played really well this year, and they are the heart and soul of this offense. LSU has surrendered the least amount of sacks in the SEC, as mentioned previously, and they have opened up some very good running lanes for the running back cast of Ware, Ford, Blue and Hilliard.
Alabama might have the edge here, but if there is an edge, it is not much.
Defensive Line – Edge LSU
If there are two words that describe the LSU defensive line it would be dominant and fast. I still have the memory of LaMichael James taking a zone-read handoff in the backfield and defensive end Barkevious Mingo running him down from the backside. That set the tone for this defense, and that is the statement this flashy defensive line loves to portray. LSU is second in the SEC in sacks with 19, and it seems like they are always in the backfield every other play. Along with Mingo, Sam Montgomery has played very well also. The Tigers obviously haven’t played an offensive line as good as Alabama’s yet, but I give the edge to the LSU defensive line right now.
Linebackers – Edge Alabama
One player who has played out of his mind this season for Alabama is Courtney Upshaw. Upshaw is second in the SEC with 11.5 tackles for loss and sixth in the SEC in sacks with 4.5. Along with Upshaw, CJ Moseley and Dont’a Hightower are just as good at the second level. Hightower hits like a truck when he sets his sights on the ball carrier. These guys will physically punish you from the point of attack.
LSU has three experienced and very good linebackers as well. Ryan Baker, Karnell Hatcher and Stefoin Francois have played very well for John Chavis, particularly Baker. Baker is the vocal leader on this defensive unit.
But there is little doubt that Alabama’s linebackers are the best unit.
Defensive Backs – Push
The strongest position out of every position on the football field will be in the defensive backfield. From Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne to Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron, the defensive backfield for both teams will have enough talent on it to fill out an NFL roster.
Mathieu has played out of his mind this season, and Claiborne has played ever so steady for the Tigers. However, they have not outplayed Dre Kirkpatrick, Robert Lester or Mark Barron by any stretch of the imagination.
There will be several guys in both secondaries playing on Sundays over the course of the next couple of years.
Special Teams – Push
Kickers Drew Alleman (LSU) and Jeremy Shelley (Alabama) are interchangeable, and both have kicked their little hearts out this year.
LSU has the best punter statically in the SEC in Brad Wing – the guy is a stud, but Alabama has the advantage in returning punts with Marquis Maze.
Coaches – Edge Alabama
Both of these coaches recruit incredible talent, but this game will be settled on the field. While I’ll give Nick Saban the advantage in preparation and preparing for this LSU team, Les Miles is one of the best and gutsiest game day coaches in the country…and he’s usually right in his judgement.
With that being said, I’m going with Nick Saban as my coach of choice because he’s the only coach in the SEC to win two National Championships at two different programs. I would take Les Miles in a close second, though.
The coaches are very good and probably the best in the country, but this game will be settled on the field the way it should be among the top two programs in the country.
It should be a blast.