For the second straight year, the Eye on College Football counts down to the SEC's Game of the Century Year between the Tigers and Tide -- 8 p.m. Saturday on CBS, and live online right here -- with a daily look at news, stats, matchups, and more.
|Les Miles' Tigers and Nick Saban's Tide will meet as top-5 teams for the third time in 12 months. (US Presswire)|
DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: Five. That essentially is the number of yards allowed per passing attempt by LSU and Alabama this year combined. (The actual number: 4.947.) This is one of the few relevant defensive statistics where the Tide don't have the upper hand -- the Tigers rank second in the country at only 4.7 yards allowed per opponent's pass, with the Tide lagging far behind at 5.2 allowed, a mere fourth in the FBS. (As for who's sandwiched at third between these two titans of SEC defense, would you believe ... Minnesota?!?)
THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: Given the (ahem) unsettled nature of the Tide's quarterbacking depth chart behind AJ McCarron, even an innocuous-looking injury like the bruised back McCarron suffered against Mississippi State is going to be a matter of intense interest.
Fortunately for any particularly nervous Tide fans, Nick Saban said Monday his quarterback's injury won't do more than slow him down for a day or two. The same goes for dinged wideout Amari Cooper, the Tide's leading receiver.
Elsewhere, McCarron, linebacker C.J. Mosley, and cornerback Dee Milliner are each still up for some major postseason hardware, McCarron the Maxwell Award and Mosley and Milliner the Bednarik. A Mississippi State blog, For Whom the Cowbell Tolls, responded to Saturday night's 38-7 loss by writing that the Tide are, basically, an unstoppable robot army. (They meant it as a compliment.)
VIDEO BREAK: Dennis Dood appeared on Monday's College Football 360 (every weekday, 10 a.m. ET, right here) to offer his early preview of the game:
MAKE-OR-BREAK MATCHUP OF THE DAY: Eric Reid and Craig Loston vs. Amari Cooper and Kenny Bell. Entering 2012, the demise of JUCO white rabbit Duron Carter meant that once again the one perceived chink in Alabama's armor would be the lack of a game-breaking wide receiver, that reliable downfield threat that would keep defenses from focusing entirely on stopping the Alabama run game.
Eight games in, there have been two problems with that viewpoint. First, with the best offensive line in the country and the Eddie Lacy/T.J. Yeldon tag-team doing a fine Trent Richardson impression, teams have had to push as many defenders as possible toward the line-of-scrimmage. And second, the emergence of touted freshman Amari Cooper and junior Kenny Bell have given the Tide two high-caliber receiving targets anyway. (Though Bell only has 12 receptions, they've gone for a ridiculous average of 25.8 yards each.) Mississippi State's Johnathan Banks-led secondary was by far the biggest test of the Tide's newfound receiving strength faced this season, and Cooper and Bell passed with flying colors: five combined receptions for 104 yards and Bell's 57-yard touchdown.
|Eric Reid will need to reprise his heroics from last year's November meeting. (US Presswire)|
Combine that production with senior tight end Michael Williams' good work underneath, and it's fair to call the Tide receiving corps one of the SEC's best and a legitimate strength. (Yes, another one.) But the LSU secondary represents another level of difficulty entirely, particularly in the Tiger Stadium cauldron. Safety Eric Reid has lived up to his preseason All-American billing, and he's still only been a shade better than fellow safety starter Craig Loston, a tandem that would rank alongside any in the country -- and even likely a small step ahead of the Tide's Robert Lester and Vinnie Sunseri.
Tigers corners Tharold Simon and Jalen Mills have been outstanding as well. (We mentioned LSU was second in the nation in per-attempt pass defense, right?) But the duty of making sure Cooper and Bell don't break loose for a backbreaking long touchdown is going to fall primarily on Reid and Loston. Given their responsibilities in helping slow down the Tide rushing attack -- and Cooper's and Bell's now-proven explosiveness -- that'll be much easier said than done.
But if anyone can do it, it's Reid and Loston. And if they do, preventing Cooper and Bell from shaking loose and forcing Alabama to drive the field a chunk at a time against the intimidating LSU front seven and those top-notch corners -- well, that's a hill so tall even Alabama might not be able to climb it consistently.
THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: There was plenty of talk out of Baton Rouge in the offseason -- including from Les Miles himself -- that Zach Mettenberger's arm was going to lead to a much more dynamic, consistent, meaningful LSU passing attack. So far, not so much: The Tigers are 109th in passing offense and an even more damning 90th in pass efficiency.
But Mettenberger himself told the Times-Picayune none of that matters against Alabama.
"It's a game I've prepared for my whole life," Mettenberger said. "You can look at the numbers all you want. For me, individually, they're not the prettiest thing there is, but we're winning football games. That's the important thing."
Well, yes, but with prettier numbers, maybe the Tigers would have also won the Florida game -- and it's safe to say that Jordan Jefferson throwing 17 passes and gaining all of 53 yards in the BCS title debacle didn't do a lot for his team's cause that night. The win is, certainly, the important thing. But at least some statistical production from Mettenberger and Co. will be necessary to earn it.
Also: Reid is on the banged-up side but should be fine for Saturday; offensive lineman Josh Williford is back after suffering a concussion vs. Florida, and could step right into the starting lineup; and via LSU blog And the Valley Shook, here's "old-school pro wrestler" Dusty Rhodes' effort to get you hyped for the game.