For the second consecutive year, the Eye on College Football counts down to the SEC's Game of the Year between the Tigers and Tide -- 8 p.m. ET Saturday on CBS, and live online right here -- with a daily look at news, stats, matchups and more.
|As Missouri discovered, tackling T.J. Yeldon is easier said than done. (US Presswire)|
DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 2, or Alabama's national rank in turnover margin at plus-17 overall, or plus-2.13 per game. LSU is no slouch in this department, either, ranking in a tie for 11th overall and 10th per game after finishing plus-five in its last outing vs. Texas A&M.
Statheads routinely refer to turnover margin as an inherently fluky, unsustainable stat, and there's unquestionably something to that when it comes to fumble recoveries (which are often determined by the random bounce of the ball). But ballhawking defenses and mistake-free offensive play have plenty to do with it, too, as shown by the Tide and Tigers both mocking the idea of regression-to-the-mean in this statistic in recent seasons. Alabama has ranked No. 32, 4, 14, and 23 the past four seasons, with LSU No. 36, 22, and 2 the last three. Combined with this season's stellar showings, it's clear there's a lot more going on here than good fortune.
THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: AJ McCarron's brilliant start to the season -- 177 passes, 18 touchdowns, no interceptions -- has him in the Heisman discussion (if not yet among the favorites), but he may not be able to do more than that without shedding the "game manager" label applied to him during the Tide's 2011 BCS championship run.
Still, McCarron told TideSports on Wednesday that he's perfectly fine with being called a game manager:
"What I think and then what the media tries to make a game manager out to be is two totally different things. I probably think more along the lines of coach Saban. A game manager can be anything. I mean, he can throw nine touchdowns in one game, but he still managed the game. He could hand the ball off 47 times, but still manage the game ... People nowadays love to see the ball being slung around and everything but that's not our style of play. So, I'm going to, like what coach always, take what the defense gives me. And eventually, like our old saying, eventually they'll give you the game."
For his part, Saban is OK with the "game manager" talk, too*:
"To me, you can't be a good quarterback unless you're a game manager, because you've got the ball in your hands every time and you're making some kind of choice and decision of what to do with it whether you hand it off, what play you hand it off on, where you throw it in the passing game."
That makes plenty of sense -- but the distorted image of McCarron as someone who simply tries not to screw up what the offensive line and running game are actually accomplishing still won't do his Heisman (or other national award) chances any favors.
Meanwhile, LSU's Zach Mettenberger has the Tigers ranked 90th nationally in pass efficiency and even worse in aerial yardage, but per al.com, don't let Tide corner Dee Milliner tell you he's anything less than great:
"Great quarterback, a big-armed quarterback, does a lot of great things throwing the ball. He does a great job of operating and knowing what the defense does and hits the key holes on pass plays. He's checking a lot and doing some great things."
C'mon, guys, where's the bulletin-board material? This stuff isn't nearly as much fun.
VIDEO BREAK: From Thursday's College Football 360 (every weekday at 10 a.m., right here), CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler breaks things down:
POLITICAL TIDBIT BREAK: From USA Today's Paul Myerberg, it appears the many, many conservative voters in the Tide's fan base will have to balance their love for their team over what a victory might mean, omen-wise, for their preferred presidential candidate:
Over the last 7 elections, an Alabama win vs. LSU has come in a year when a Democrat was elected President, an LSU win a Republican.— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) November 1, 2012
MAKE-OR-BREAK MATCHUP OF THE DAY: Kevin Minter and Lamin Barrow vs. Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Wednesday, this space documented how Mettenberger's struggles mean LSU won't have much of a chance if it can't get its running game going on a semi-consistent basis. Unless McCarron has his first true off-game of the season, though, the Tide's vast advantage under center means the Tigers defense is facing a similar challenge on defense: stop the Tide's prodigious running game, or else.
|Kevin Minter has been a force at LB. (US Presswire)|
That could be the one challenge facing Alabama that might be just a shade easier than the public would expect. Despite a schedule front-loaded with the defensive likes of Florida Atlantic, dreadful Arkansas, and equally dreadful Tennessee -- not to mention an offensive line widely acclaimed to be the nation's best -- the Tide haven't quite lived up to their recent sky-high standards in rushing production. Ranking 20th in the FBS in yards per-carry and 22nd in total rushing offense hardly qualifies as failure, but it still represents a drop from finshing No. 7 and No. 16 in those categories in 2011, and the yards-per-carry rank would be the Tide's lowest finish there since 2008.
Given LSU's overwhelming talent and depth on the defensive line -- one where the likes of monstrous tackle Anthony Johnson and blue-chip sophomore defensive end Jermauria Rasco don't even start -- it's hard to look at Ole Miss holding the Tide to 125 yards and 3.7 per carry in Tuscaloosa and not think the Tigers can do even better in Baton Rouge.
But whether they do or not could ultimately come down to how well Tigers linebackers and team leading tacklers Kevin Minter and Lamin Barrow fare against the Tide's tailback tandem of Eddie Lacy and true freshman T.J. Yeldon. The numbers above and the Tigers' defensive line strength suggest Minter and Barrow will have their chances to keep Lacy and Yeldon bottled up, and Minter certainly seems up to the challenge; after a productive 2011, he's turned things up a notch in 2012 and could earn All-American consideration after his breakout game vs. Florida. A similar performance vs. the Tide could singlehandedly keep his team in the game Saturday.
But it's easier said than done against Yeldon and Lacy, both of whom aren't in Trent Richardson's class when it comes to being hard to tackle, but might be in the same ballpark. Lacy has a stunning repertoire of jukes and spins for a back of his size, and Yeldon's smaller frame has already proven to pack substantially more punch than it might appear. Both backs are in the same standard as the Gators' Mike Gillislee, who along with the Florida line wore down and eventually broke the LSU front in the Swamp a few weeks ago.
If Minter and Barrow want to stop that bit of history from reoccurring, they have to make sure Lacy and Yeldon go down on first contact ... to make sure they don't pick up any extra yards here or there that would add up to extended drives ... to make sure that every chance at holding on third-and-short or forcing McCarron into a third-and-long (a situation where he hasn't yet faced anything like LSU's secondary in Death Valley yet this season). If they do, the Tigers will have a chance. If they don't, the game against Florida could prove to be a particularly ill omen.
THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: After some rocky showings against the likes of Auburn and Towson (not to mention the Gators), the LSU offensive line has flashed some improvement in recent weeks. Why? Tackle Josh Dworaczyk says it's nothing less than some hands-on attention from the head coach himself.
“Coach Miles has really stepped up as far as his involvement with the offensive line,” he told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “That's his background. He's really been involved with us at practice and using that in the games and I think that's part of the reason the offensive line is doing better.”
Miles, however, downplayed his influence.
"[Dworaczyk] was basically just being kind to the head coach who was hanging around the drills,” he said. “We take a fundamental approach. We want to make our technique better. [OL coach Greg Studrawa] really orchestrates the drill and I get to play [graduate assistant]."
Somehow, we have a hard time envisioning Les Miles only taking a GA role when it comes to any part of LSU's practice. We also somehow doubt this choice of metaphor from Sam Montgomery on getting the LSU crowd involved was an accident (emphasis added):
“I feel like it's one of those things where I control the wave of the ocean ... When the wave of the ocean is in control, you can control the tide. Anything can go.”
The Tigers hope the crowd will do even more than affecting the game -- the usual electric atmosphere could make a very good impression on a sizable list of high-profile recruits expected to attend the game.