Tag:AJ McCarron
Posted on: November 12, 2011 11:36 pm
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QUICK HITS: No. 4 Alabama 24, Mississippi St. 7

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



ALABAMA WON: It was in many ways the Tide's unprettiest win of the year, one marked by much of the same questionable quarterbacking, kicking woes, and missed opportunities that plagued them against LSU. But when you have the Trent Richardson-Eddie Lacy tag team at running back and a defense that holds your opponent to just 131 total yards, it takes a lot more unpretty than that to drop one against Mississippi State. Richardson and Lacy combined for 223 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

WHY ALABAMA WON: As good as Richardson and Lacy were, this win wasn't much about the Tide offense; by going an even-quieter-than-the-numbers-sugge
st 14-of-24 for 163 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception, AJ McCarron reduced the Tide offense to one dimension for much of the night. (One very, very good dimension, but still.) Two more missed field goals (one a makeable 31-yarder that Jeremy Shelley usually converts without much drama) put an even bigger onus on the Tide defense to come up big.

Which they did, of course. The numbers tell most of the tale -- those 131 total yards for the Bulldogs, the 12 rushing yards given up on 29 carries, the 4 yards allowed per Mississippi State passing attempt -- but they don't quite explain how well the Tide stiffened the few times the offense put them in a bad position ... for instance, when McCarron's inexplicable second-quarter interception set MSU up at the Tide 4. First down: blanketed receiver, incomplete. Second: Vick Ballard rush, loss of 3. Third: under-pressure incompletion. And then, just to make the Tide defense feel really good about itself, the missed chip shot field goal on fourth. Spread that kind of domination out over four quarters, and it seems somewhat strange State even got on the board.

WHEN ALABAMA WON: The Tide took over on their own 27 up 17-7 in the fourth quarter with 6:26 remaining, and we suppose weirder things have happened than teams -- even great teams like Alabama -- losing in that situation. Nothing weirder has ever happened, though, than a hypothetical State win once the Tide plowed downfield for an 11-play, 73-yard touchdown drive -- every inch of it coming on the ground via Richardson and Lacy -- that took up all but the final 78 seconds.

WHAT ALABAMA WON: Nothing where the SEC West is concerned, but thanks to Oregon (and TCU, to a lesser extent), the Tide finished the day in better shape for a second shot at LSU than ever. Ugly win in Starkville or not, they'll take it.

WHAT MISSISSIPPI STATE LOST: a shot at bowl eligibility, technically speaking, and we're not sure the Bulldogs are going to get it at Arkansas next week, either. But with Ole Miss coming in two weeks and apparently having given up on the season for good, a competitive loss to a potential national champion isn't the worst thing in the world.

Posted on: November 8, 2011 2:17 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Alabama at Mississippi State

Posted by Chip Patterson

ALABAMA WILL WIN IF: They play anyone but their scout team? I imagine that Nick Saban has this Crimson Tide team ready to play at the highest level of execution following their overtime loss to LSU. Remember what Alabama did to Michigan State after Saban was upset with his team's focus during the regular season? I expect a similar result when they face Mississippi State on Saturday. Richardson will run like a man on fire and the defense will strive to shut out a reeling Bulldogs squad.

MISSISSIPPI STATE WILL WIN IF: Alabama has been shaken due to the loss. The Bulldogs will try to use the home field advantage at night as much as possible, but the ground attack of Chris Relf and Vick Ballard just doesn't look productive enough to take on a defense like the Tide. Their best chance to stun Alabama early is to try and force McCarron into making poor decisions and hope for an early turnover. Otherwise, it could be a long and painful night for the Bulldogs.

X-FACTOR: AJ McCarron. After struggling against LSU, I'm interested to see how the first-year starter bounces back against the Bulldogs. If the sophomore quarterback wants to keep his hold on the first-string job in the future, he will need to prove it in these last weeks of the season. Richardson and Lacy are probably enough for Alabama to win on Saturday, but a good performance from McCarron could lead to the domination Tide fans are hoping for.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview
Posted on: November 4, 2011 4:27 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 5:05 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Nov. 4: The prediction

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 1, or the number of times -- it bears repeating -- No. 1 and No. 2 have met in a regular season SEC game as of this Saturday night. Tune in, and you'll be seeing something that quite literally has never happened before in college football. That the two teams are entirely worthy of their rankings (as best we can tell) is just the icing on the cake.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who wins?

We've spent two weeks and thousands upon thousands of words breaking down this game here at the LSU-Alabama Daily, and the only thing we feel completely certain about is that you can't be certain of a winner in a matchup like this. When nearly every advantage one team has over the other is the kind of advantage you have to split hairs in naming it an advantage at all, it's it's fair to call it an out-and-out "tossup" or "coinflip." We fully expect the game to come down to one play, and with both teams loaded to the gills with the sort of athletes who could make that play, the winner truly is anybody's guess.

But since it's no fun not making a guess all the same, we'll offer one here. We've given LSU slight edges in special teams and quarterbacking, Alabama slight edges in the running game, front seven and secondary (though we know LSU partisans will debate that last one fiercely). On paper, as you'd expect, it's just about even.

But we think one of the edges, even if slight, is worth more than others: Alabama's in the front seven. Thanks to their relative weakness at linebacker, LSU already has trouble defending the run without bringing in help from the secondary; as we've noted, nearly all of the Tigers' top tacklers are safeties and corners. Against some of the quarterbacks the Tigers have faced, this hasn't an issue, but vs. a well-drilled AJ McCarron playing at home? It easily could be.

Mark Barron of course also ranks amongst the Tide's top tacklers, but for the most part, Nick Saban is happy to let his front seven stop the run on their own. And though that's easier said than done vs. Spencer Ware and Co., the boost of adrenaline and energy provided by the home crowd should make it a more achievable goal.

In short: even if Trent Richardson doesn't have his usual gaudy day on the ground, he's almost certain to force the LSU defensive backs to cheat up and open holes for the passing game. We can't say the same for the LSU ground game, and we think Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson's greater difficulty finding those holes could prove to be the difference.

(One other minor factor worth mentioning about LSU's linebackers: they'll be the ones responsible for dealing with Alabama's screen game, bar-none the best in the country. When caught between getting stuffed on the ground and throwing into the teeth of the opponent's vicious secondary, Alabama still has the option of going to Richardson and forcing either Ryan Baker or Kevin Minter to make a play; with only seven receptions on the season [or barely a quarter of the 25 pulled in by the Richardson-Eddie Lacy tag team], Ware doesn't offer the same kind of alternative for LSU.)

There's that, and then there's simply this: we don't think anyone's beating this Alabama team in Alabama. When everything else is equal -- and we think things are ever-so-slightly unequal, in the Tide's favor -- take the home team.

So we are. Alabama 23, LSU 17.



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: By this point, there's not a whole lot left for either team to say or report. Saban himself enjoyed his usual Thursday radio call-in show but didn't have much of interest to discuss where the game was concerned. He did say that LSU has "the best special teams" in the country and "probably the best running team" since Les Miles's arrival.

Perhaps the most intriguing pre-game point? CBSSports.com RapidReporter Jim Dunn reports that Tide players have made allusions to unseen tricks still in Saban's and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's bag, since the long series of Tide bludgeonings hasn't required much in the way of schematic ingenuity. This could be a plus for the Tide--but we have no doubt LSU's equally lopsided series of wins means John Chavis and the LSU defense can say precisely the same.

Alabama's players have studiously avoided smack talk of any kind, including pointedly refusing to address Deangelo Peterson's claim that the Tide's "slow" linebackers wouldn't be able to cover him. So maybe it's fitting that maybe the most eyebrow-raising comment of the week comes from receiver Darius Hanks about ... the Tide's own former players?

"Last year, the leadership wasn't there like we needed it to be," Hanks said of the team's 2010 defeat in Baton Rouge. "This year, we have many leaders at every position." So, Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones ... you guys' thoughts on that?

Not that everyone would disagree with Hanks. An anonymous "veteran coach who's faced both Alabama and LSU this season" spoke to the Bimringham News and said the game would come down to McCarron making the throws needed to win the game--throws the coach pointedly said McElroy didn't make last year.



THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: It's not just the pundits who are saying the two teams are strikingly similar for a game like this: LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers told reporters that after watching film, going up against Alabama is like "looking in a mirror."

Push is going to have to come to shove when it comes to coaching trends. Miles has gone a sparkling 10-3 in his last 13 games after bye weeks or in bowl games, and an even better 11-1 in road night games ... so it's too bad Saban has gone 12-0 in his last 12 vs. coaches who defeated him the year before.

We suppose this was inevitable:



Yes, that's Miles appearing in a government-sponsored advertisement for Louisiana-grown turfgrass.

"Nothing beats Louisiana-grown turfgrass," Miles is quoted as saying in the spot. "It's local, fresh and reliable. And it's the grass of champions, whether you chew it for luck or not." It's always nice when you see a celebrity endorser who you know really does use the product they're shilling for, isn't it?



SIGNING OFF: Here's hoping you've enjoyed our two-week run here with the LSU-Alabama Daily. For more, check out Dennis Dodd's take on whether the game deserves the "Game of the Century" tag, Bruce Feldman's and Brett McMurphy's predictions for the game, BCS expert Jerry Palm's take on whether we could see a rematch, and enough LSU-Alabama videos to just about take you up to gametime.
Posted on: November 4, 2011 3:04 pm
 

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 10

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom.

Listen, we know what you're planning on having for dinner on Saturday night. The only college football fans who won't be tuning into Alabama and LSU on Saturday night are the ones who have their favorite teams playing at the same time. And even most of those people will be flipping back and forth.

Still, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other strong options out there on Saturday. I mean, every main course needs an appetizer or 8, right?

BREAKFAST

Iowa vs. #13 Michigan - ESPN, 12pm ET

Let's face it: it's not very fun to watch games with dynamic performers if those guys get shut down by a defense. Fortunately for Michigan, that's probably not a fate awaiting Denard Robinson against Iowa. The Hawkeye defense has been jarringly bad all season long, and "Shoelace" is likely to get in the end zone several times. What more can you ask for from an early game? - Adam Jacobi

Texas vs. Texas Tech - FX, 12pm ET

The word is that beginning next season these two teams will begin playing on Thanksgiving Day, so this may be the last time you watch this game without a turkey leg in your mouth. Both are looking to make a statement on Saturday, as the Longhorns would like the world to know that they're a good team that has lost to great teams. Texas Tech, meanwhile, would like to prove that the win over Oklahoma wasn't just a fluke and it wants to wash the stench of Iowa State off. - Tom Fornelli

Florida vs. Vanderbilt - SEC Network, 12:21pm ET

Is this the week the Commodores finish the deal? After playing Georgia tough and Arkansas tougher, it would seem the reeling Gators, losers of four straight, would be ripe for the picking. But with John Brantley another week removed from his ankle injury and Will Muschamp's team now in desperation mode, the upset won't come easy. Vandy's struggled on the road, too, having lost their two SEC games away from Nashville (to South Carolina and Alabama) by combined 55-3. Can the Gators rebound? - Jerry Hinnen

LUNCH

Oregon State vs. #4 Stanford - ABC, 3:30pm ET

Let down game? We'll see if Stanford struggles on the road after their big, overtime win at USC last week. Strange things have been known to happen up in Corvallis with highly ranked teams so keep your eye on this one even though it's a complete mismatch in favor of the Cardinal. - Bryan Fischer

#7 Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M - ABC/ESPN2, 3:30pm ET

With its slim hopes of winning the Big 12 dashed last week by Missouri, the Aggies are now resigned to playing the role of spoiler. What better way to say goodbye to Oklahoma than by killing its chances at a Big 12 title as well? Both of these teams have strong offenses, and we could be in store for quite the shootout in Norman on Saturday. - TF

#19 Wisconsin vs. Purdue - ABC/ESPN2, 3:30pm ET

We're not saying this game won't be competitive, but before the third quarter is over, Russell Wilson will probably throw a sword at the press box then scream, "Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you have come out here?!" And then, if we haven't stretched the Gladiator reference past credulity and good taste, the Camp Randall crowd will begin chanting, "Caroliniard!" over and over. - AJ

Air Force vs. Army - CBS, 3:30pm ET

Air Force already withstood an 18-point comeback from Navy before winning 35-34 in overtime, and it would be a huge let down to follow that performance with a loss against Army at home.  The Falcons can capture their 18th outright win for the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy if they can win the ground attack battle against the Black Knights.  Army and Air Force rank 1st and 3rd nationally in rushing offense, and Saturday's battle will be a test of defense and ball control as the two service academies square off in the annual rivalry.  With Air Force starting quarterback Tim Jefferson reportedly playing with a broken nose, I expect senior Asher Clark to step up in the backfield with a big performance at home.  The Falcons are favored to win this nationally televised battle, but in these rivalry games with the service academies you never know what to expect.  - Chip Patterson

DINNER

Pitt vs. #23 Cincinnati - ESPNU, 7pm ET

The Bearcats have quietly made themselves Big East frontrunners, as the only team without a loss in conference play.  Two years ago Cincinnati came from behind to beat Pittsburgh 45-44 on Heinz Field to cap off an undefeated regular season and earn a berth to the Sugar Bowl.  Now with Butch Jones at the helm, they control their own destiny to return to a BCS bowl.  Their five-game home stretch starts with the Panthers, who will be looking to rebound from losing Ray Graham for the season with a knee injury.  Quarterback Tino Sunseri delivered one of his best performances of the season after Graham went down against UConn, and they'll need it again to take down the conference leaders. - CP

#8 Arkansas vs. #10 South Carolina - ESPN, 7:15pm ET 

Believe it or not, there's going to be two matchups of BCS top 10 teams in the SEC Saturday night. The Hogs and Gamecocks might have been able to draw a little more attention away from that other game if Carolina had done anything on offense of late, but -- go figure -- scoring just 28 points in their past two games doesn't seem to have done much to move the national needle. If Tyler Wilson can avoid getting an early shower courtesy of Melvin Ingram and the rest of the outstanding Gamecock pass rush, Carolina should be hard-pressed to keep pace with the Raozrback offense in Fayetteville. - JH

#3 Oklahoma State vs. #17 Kansas State - ABC/ESPN2, 8pm ET

Consider this Kansas State's last stand. The Wildcats were finally starting to gain the respect they deserved for their strong start to the season only to get trounced by Oklahoma last weekend. They either get off the mat and fight back against a very good Oklahoma State team or they'll just be a footnote in the 2011 season. As for Oklahoma State, they've got plenty to play for, as a berth in the BCS title game is very much in play. - TF

#2 Alabama vs. #1 LSU - CBS, 8pm ET

So, is it possible to sum up two solid weeks of previews and thousands and thousands of words in just a couple of sentences? We'll try: if AJ McCarron doesn't hand the Tigers big plays on defense and Rueben Randle doesn't break free for some big plays on offense, Alabama's brutal run game and equally brutal run defense will eventually wear down the Tigers in Tuscaloosa. But if McCarron does get sloppy and Randle does keep the Tide D off-balance, the matchup's close enough that just those handful of plays could swing it. - JH 

LATE NIGHT SNACK

Washington vs. #6 Oregon - Fox Sports, 10:30pm ET

Washington fans hate Oregon. Oregon fans hate Washington. This Northwest rivalry is underrated by many nationally and has been one-sided as of late but this year's game should be very competitive. The Huskies can score some points on the Ducks defense but can UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt stop the fast-paced Oregon attack? - BF 
Posted on: November 3, 2011 5:36 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 1:11 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Nov. 3: QB showdown

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 2, or the number of fumbles LSU has lost all season, the third-fewest total in the FBS. What's incredible is that that number is still one more than the number of interceptions thrown by Tiger quarterbacks in 2011; only Utah State has also tossed just one. Not surprisingly, LSU's total of three turnovers is the lowest in the nation. But Alabama's not that far behind--the Tide's eight ties them for sixth-fewest nationally.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Which team has the advantage at quarterback?

Just before the season -- even given that AJ McCarron had yet to start a game at the collegiate level and hadn't even been delcared the full-time Alabama starter -- this was a no-brainer. LSU was mired in a quarterbacking slump that had lasted three full seasons, and their best hope for a change in fortunes seemed already dashed by the indefinite suspension of the reportedly much-improved Jordan Jefferson. Jarrett Lee couldn't really be the answer, could he?

Not only has Lee been the answer, he's been such a positive that if the question is still a no-brainer, it's a no-brainer in the Tigers' favor. With an incredible 13-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, the highest quarterback ratio in the SEC (and one of the top 20 in the nation), and the single biggest hand in an offense averaging an unthinkable 39 points per-game, the senior isn't just having a career year--the former turnover machine is having the sort of season we believed would have to be some other quarterback's career year. If we were picking the first-team All-SEC quarterback today, Tyler Wilson would be Lee's only serious competition.

But what takes LSU's quarterback position from merely "outstanding" to "nearly as good as any that's not Stanford's" is that Lee's only part of the equation. Les Miles has always handled the two-QB, change-of-pace rotation expertly, and so it's no surprise that hasn't changed with Jefferson back and the "running" quarterback also a senior with three years' worth of starts behind him. The numbers for the LSU quarterback spot in the three games since Jefferson's full-time return speak for themselves: 70 percent of passes completed, 10.2 yards per-attempt, 8 touchdowns, no interceptions, 82 yards rushing and a rush TD (courtesy of Jefferson) for good measure.

It's a testament to how strongly McCarron has come on since being named the Tide starter that, for all of that, it's not a no-brainer to declare LSU with the advantage here; his 67 percent completion rate and 8.3 yards per-attempt are both better marks than Lee's, and since throwing two picks Week 1 vs. Kent State, McCarron's 9-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio will stand with anyone's. Particularly worrying for the Tigers is that McCarron has been particularly money at home: 15-of-20 without a pick vs. Arkansas, a 4-to-0 TD-to-INT ratio vs. Vanderbilt, a season-high 10.9 yards per-attempt against Tennessee last Saturday.

Combine McCarron's penchant for such strong showings at Bryant-Denny with an LSU secondary we feel is just a hair more boom-or-bust than the lockdown unit Lee and Jefferson will face, and it's possible that the redshirt sophomore will outplay his LSU counterparts--especially if he can keep the ball out of the hands of the LSU ballhawks. That would be a win that would no doubt put LSU in deep, deep trouble.

But at this point in the season, Lee and Jefferson have done enough that even on the road, even against Alabama, we're expecting them to get the better in the head-to-head matchup. That doesn't mean LSU will necessarily come away with the victory in a game this tight--but if they don't, we are confident in saying it won't be on the guys under center.



THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: You won't find much in the way of bulletin board material in the above video interviews with Les Miles, T-Bob Hebert and Eric Reid, which is why CBS Sports maybe should have spoken to LSU senior tight end Deangelo Peterson instead. Asked about his matchups Saturday, Peterson had this to say(emphasis added):
"I think I can play a big role because I feel like their linebackers can't guard me one-on-one. They're slow ... I don't think their safeties can either. If the ball comes my way, I'll make an opportunity with it."
Well then, Mr. Peterson. CBSSports.com RapidReporter Glenn Guilbeau is correct when he points out that the Tide's linebackers are larger than the ones typically faced by the Tigers, and no doubt Miles appreciates his player's confidence. We still have no question Miles would much rather not have his player challenging the likes of Dont'a Hightower and Mark Barron to prove they can, in fact, cover him.

It's not often that a team facing a bunch of dedicated road-graders like Alabama willingly gets smaller, but Miles said Wednesday that he won't shy away from using the nickel -- a move that would put more emphasis on his loaded secondary and less on his merely-good linebackers -- when the game calls for it.

“It depends on the situations that we run into, but there’s also a point in time where the fast guys will make it more difficult for the big guys to block at times,” Miles said. “We’ll play that nickel package in some marginal downs and distances.”

Crazy stat of the day: LSU hasn't won its first six SEC games of the season since 1961.

VIDEO BREAK: If there's one person we wouldn't blame for being tired of the LSU-Alabama hype, it's CBS analyst Gary Danielson, who' been previewing the game in one form or another seemingly since the start of October. But that's also made Danielson as knowledgable as anyone on the game, so we suggests watching the two following clips as Danielson discusses the game first for CBSSports.com, and then on the Tony Barnhart Show:





THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA:
How much can Trent Richardson bench press? God only knows, and we mean that literally: neither Richardson himself nor his trainers have a firm figure since said trainers won't allow Richardson to press more than 475 pounds. "I did 475 easily," Richardson told the Dan Patrick Show, "and they won't let go above 475." (Less interesting, but more germane to preparation for Saturday: when asked which LSU defenders stood out on film, Richardson mentioned a safety we assume is leading tackler Brandon Taylor and Morris Claiborne ... and not a certain Honey Badger.)

Reporters allowed to get a glimpse of Wednesday's practice reported that Tide backup running back Eddie Lacy was still exhibiting a "noticeable limp," the sophomore having injured his foot against Arkansas Sept. 24. But LAcy wore a full-contact white jersey at the practice and Nick Saban said he had no injury news to report. "We don't have any personnel injuries, problems or anything you don't know about. Everybody's been practicing all week,” Saban said.

The guess here: Lacy isn't 100 percent. But whatever percent he is, it's nowhere near low enough to keep him out of a game like this.

And we're guessing everyone saw this coming as soon as ticket prices hit quadruple digits, but yes, there's counterfeits out there. Be careful if you're getting yours late.
Posted on: October 30, 2011 5:55 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 30: Expecting unexpected

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.



DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 6
or the number of red zone scores allowed by Alabama this season, one of the many, many statistics in which the Tide defense leads the nation ... and in which LSU trails just a bit behind, tied for 12th with 15. The bad news for Alabama, such as it is? Five of those six scores -- out of nine opponents' red zone attempts total, also the lowest total in the nation -- have been touchdowns. Meaning Alabama's rate of allowing red zone touchdowns (55.6 percent) is essentially identical to the Tigers' (56.3, 9 of 16).

Does any of that matter? Not necessarily--it's a tiny sample size and red zone percentage is notoriously fluky stat anyway. But it also could be an indication that if LSU can break through to the Tide red zone, they're not doomed to settle for field goals no matter how strong the Tide D might be.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: We know we're going to see plenty of smashmouth running, aggressive calls from Les Miles, and huge hits from the nation's two best defenses. But what might we see that we wouldn't think we'd see?

In other words: if we're going to "expect the unexpected," what would we expect? And while that's a tough question to answer (it wouldn't be completely "unexpected" if we saw it coming, right?), here's a few guesses at potential events during Saturday's showdown that might defy conventional wisdom:

AJ McCarron airing it out. For a given definition of "air it out," of course; this is still Trent Richardson's offense first, second, and probably third. But Jim McElwain and Nick Saban have never been averse to letting their quarterbacks put the ball in the air when the situation calls for it. McCarron's already thrown 30 or more times twice this season, vs. Penn State and Vanderbilt. Likewise, though the common memory of Greg McElroy's role in the Tide's 2009 national title is as a low-use "game manager," he, too, surpassed the 30-pass mark four times, including against -- you guessed it -- LSU. With the Tigers ever-so-slightly softer against the pass than the run (10th nationally vs. 3rd), it won't be a huge surprise if McElwain turns to McCarron to handle a sizable chunk of the offense.

LSU connecting on the deep ball. We know the Tigers are going to try and go deep; when you have Rueben Randle and a quarterback in Jarrett Lee whose deep touch is his greatest strength, it's a no-brainer. The question is whether they'll have any success, and given that only Texas has allowed fewer than the Tide's 13 passes given up longer than 20 yards, it won't come easy. But the Tigers themselves lead the SEC in passes of 40 yards or more and rank second in those of 30 or more. There's some history of success for LSU vs. the Tide, too--just last year Randle caught balls of 76 yards (for a TD) and 47 yards, and the Tigers finished averaging 10.4 yards an attempt. Strong as the Tide secondary is, don't be shocked if the Tigers get over the top once or twice.

An Alabama trick play. It's Miles, of course, who's famous for diving into the bag of tricks. But over the past few seasons Saban has proven he's not afraid to call for some trickeration, either, especially in big games. Remember the fake punt that opened up the 2009 BCS national championship against the Longhorns? Then there was the Arkansas game earlier this season, in which the Tide took the lead by motioning out of a field goal formation into an offensive set that scored a touchdown. Given that Saban knows exactly what's at stake Saturday, we could see something similar.

VIDEO BREAK: Gary Danielson will, of course, be calling the game for CBS this Saturday (8 p.m. ET, don't forget). Here he previews the game with Tim Brando:



THE LATEST: With both teams taking Saturday off, the biggest news on the game didn't come out of either Baton Rouge or Tuscaloosa--it arrived from Vegas, where the Tide opened as a consensus 4.5-point favorite and were shortly bet down to a current consensus of 4 points.

If you buy the conventional wisdom that home-field advantage is automatically worth a field goal, this could be seen as Vegas stating their belief that the Tide is the better team ... though by all of a single point. Even the Vegas experts, it seems, have to split hairs when choosing between the two sides.
Posted on: October 28, 2011 4:05 pm
Edited on: October 30, 2011 2:51 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 28: Secondary breakdown

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.

DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 8, or the number of wins for LSU in the series in the past 11 meetings. Before that uptick the Bayou Bengals trailed the Tide 42-16-5 in the all-time series and had never defeated Alabama three consecutive times. The man most responsible for the change in fortunes? Nick Saban, who went 4-1 against the Tide in his five-year stint at the LSU helm between 2000 and 2004, ending a run of 9 Alabama victories in 11 years. Saban hasn't had quite as much success turning the tables -- yet -- in Tuscaloosa, going 2-2 against LSU in his four years at Alabama.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who has the better secondary? Or maybe more importantly: which team matches up better against the opponents' receivers?

Amongst the many superlatives that will be thrown around regarding this game, here's one that's entirely deserved: these are the best two secondaries in college football. 

And with all due respect to, say, Michigan State or Virginia Tech, we're not sure it's close. Between Alabama's fivesome of safeties Mark Barron and Robert Lester and corners Dre Kirkpatrick, Demarcus Milliner and Dequan Menzie, and LSU's of safeties Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor (or Craig Loston) and corners Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Tharold Simon, it's possible the teams will combine for 8 or 9 future NFL defensive backs. (Hell: maybe 10)

So who's better? The stats give Alabama a slight edge, with the Tide having allowed an opposing QB rating of 83.68 to LSU's 96.49, just 4.5 yards per-pass attempt to LSU's 5.4, and a completion percentage of 48.1 to LSU's 53.1. (All of these numbers for both teams rank among the best in the nation, of course.) Alabama has also reached "total shutdown" phase more often, holding five of their opponents to a QB rating of 90 or worse while LSU has unlocked that achievement just three times.

In LSU's favor, though, is that 1. they've played the tougher schedule, thanks to facing teams like Oregon and West Virginia 2. they're more likely to come up with the big play, with 11 interceptions to Alabama's 9 and Mathieu among the national leaders in forced fumbles 3. as could be particularly important in a matchup of such fierce ground games, they're more involved in stuffing the run, with Taylor, Reid, Mathieu and Claiborne all among the Tigers' top five tacklers. 

So call all of that a draw. What about matchups? The Tide will be facing the toughest cover in the head-to-head in the form of Rueben Randle, now leading the SEC in average yards per-completion by a substanial margin, and they can't forget about true freshman Odell Beckham Jr. (27 receptions, 334 yards). Those are two of only three LSU targets in double-digit receptions for the year, though, while the Tide boast seven. Marquis Maze (pictured at the top of this post, opposite Mathieu in the 2010 meeting) leads the way, of course, with 39  catches and 482 yards.

So as with so many other aspects of LSU-Alabama, who wins the head-to-head between the secondaries will likely come down to whether the Tide can stop the big play. They couldn't last year, when the Tigers averaged 15 yards a completion. And on the other side of the ball, as relatively mistake-free as AJ McCarron has been, he hasn't faced the ball-hawking likes of Mathieu and Claiborne yet.

But if Barron and Lester can provide the necessary help against Randle over the top and McCarron stays in control, the matchup should swing in the Tide's favor--between their wider array of targets on offense and the LSU secondary's occasional pliability (see the 463 passing yards yielded to West Virginia), they should be more able to consistently disrupt the LSU passing game more often than LSU disrputs theirs. Especially with the Tide defenders having the advantage of homefield, we'll give the thinnest of  edges to Alabama here.

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: That this LSU-Alabama game has already reached such colossal importance means it's a good time to remind fans of both sides that there's things that are actually more important than football (it's true!), and the continuing efforts to provide relief in the wake of the tragic April 27 tornadoes that ripped through the Tuscaloosa area are one of those things.

That's why Louisana chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto have paired up with Tide football legend Bob Baumhower to hold the first-ever "Lousi-Bama Gumbo Bowl," a charity fund-raising event for tornado relief to be held outside Bryan-Denny Stadium ... and produce the new Guinness World Record holder for the Largest Pot of Gumbo. If you weren't interested before ... 

The team will create a monster pot of gumbo, using a 300-year-old cast iron pot from the sugar cane fields of South Louisiana. The World's Largest Gumbo recipe calls for 750 pounds shrimp, 450 pounds catfish fillets, 100 pounds claw crabmeat, 50 pounds white crabmeat, 200 pounds alligator meat, and 25 pounds Louisiana crawfish tail meat.

The recipe will include 200 pounds of diced onions, 75 pounds of diced celery, 100 pounds of diced green bell pepper, 150 pounds of sliced okra, 50 pounds of dehydrated garlic, and 20 pounds of butter. After simmering for three hours, the pot will be weighed via a forklift. Then, the delicious, steaming contents will be doled out to hungry football fans during the pre-game tailgate.

Pardon us while we wipe up our drool. Tickets to the event can be purchased here. For more information (including the charities to benefit, click here

LSU's coaches have been committed to showing their defense a running back with something like Trent Richardson's power in practice. How committed? Richardson's role on the scout team has been played by a linebacker, freshman Trevon Randle. Not that Claiborne is planning on going strength-on-strength with Richardson no matter how much practice he gets on Randle. 

"Any way you can get him on the ground, you just get him on the ground,” Claiborne said of the Tide star. “I know where I’m going. I’m going for the legs.” (Not a bad plan, Morris, though we doubt Randle's going to help get you ready for feet like these, either.)

Via And the Valley Shookthe LSU film department has put together a trailer for the game. And it's one we find hard to imagine won't get the blood pumping for both Tiger fan and neutrals alike:

THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: Hey speaking of Richardson, we've got some good news for LSU fans. Here's what he said Thursday about the bye week:

“My body is probably in the best condition it's been in since I've been in college, and now I get a break, and my body will feel even better when I come back.” 

Oh, wait, sorry; that's terrible news.

Overall, the Tide's attitude towards LSU has been what you'd expect: respect, but clearly not too much respect. See, for instance, this al.com video of Maze discussing Mathieu. Or this quote from senior center William Vlachos on the LSU defense:

“They're dominant,” Vlachos said. “They're solid all the way around. Their coordinator does a really good job with their defense. That's something everybody's been talking about, and we're looking forward to the challenge of playing against a great defense.”

That's nice and all, but where's the bulletin board material, guys? (Our best guess: somewhere on the LSU side. Both teams are very much reflections of their head coaches, and who do you think might slip up and say something overconfident and/or "smack"-like: Saban or Les Miles?)

The honors have continued to roll in for the Tide defense. Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and offensive lineman Barrett Jones three of the 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award,  and Hightower and Barron have been named quarterfinalists for the Lott IMPACT Award.


Posted on: October 26, 2011 5:19 pm
Edited on: October 26, 2011 5:29 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 26: Rematch possible?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.



DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 10, or the number of first downs the Crimson Tide defense is allowing per-game, rounded very slightly up. The actual number: 9.9, best in the nation by nearly four first downs a game. LSU ranks fourth, at 14.5 per game. 10 is also the number worn by AJ McCarron, the SEC's No. 2 most efficient passer behind ... Jarrett Lee.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Could the Tide and Tigers stage a winner-take-all rematch in the BCS national championship game?


Lots of other people are asking this question, so we will too. And the best answer we can offer is: Probably not. But it's too soon to rule it out entirely.

As pointed out this week by resident CBSSports.com BCS expert Jerry Palm, it's safe to assume poll voters don't want a rematch after they vaulted No. 4 Florida over No. 3 Michigan in the wake of the Gators' SEC championship victory (and No. 2 USC's upset loss) in 2006. "I think there is a sense that it isn't fair to make the winner beat the loser again," Palm writes, and that's even before discussing the logical allure of taking the team that has a BCS conference championship over the one that doesn't (assuming their records are equal). As long as voters have a viable option other than the rematch, they'll take it.

So how would we come by a situation in which there is no viable option? Here's how:

1. A tight, competitive game Nov. 5. If one team blows out the other, the push for a rematch is going to immediately be reduced to just-barely-more than nothing. It would help if LSU was the team absorbing the narrow defeat, too, since the Crimson Tide get to play host.

2. Losses by Oklahoma State, Stanford and Clemson. (Oh, and Kansas State.) By season's end, the schedule conquered by any candidate from that pool would make them a no-brainer for the BCS title game. But will any of them cross the finish line unblemished? Football Outsiders numbers guru Bill Connelly pegs the Cardinal with the best chance of the foursome ... but at just 22 percent. The collective odds of one of them running the table is much better, but as Oklahoma and Wisconsin showed last weekend, avoiding the upset bug for a whole season is always easier said than done.

3. Continued dominant play from the LSU-Alabama loser paired with extra defeats or lackluster play from teams like the Sooners and Badgers. Down-and-out as they appeared to be Saturday, an Oklahoma Big 12 conference championship on the heels of a win over previously undefeated Oklahoma State or a Big Ten title for the Badgers won with a dominant revenge victory over an 11-1 Michigan State would thrust either directly back into the BCS championship game spotlight (assuming the game was reduced to taking a one-loss team). If the LSU-Alabama loser continues to destroy all comers, though, and the Sooners, Badgers, or any other one-loss team doesn't look the part, the voters could opt for the rematch.

That's already a lot of hoops to jump through before we even start asking whether the voters would take an undefeated Boise State over the LSU-Alabama loser, a debate potentially so headache-inducing we're cringing at the thought of it. So for now, the safest assumption is that it's win-in-Tuscaloosa-or-else for LSU and Alabama's national title chances. But we can't call that assumption a certainty just yet.

Want a second opinion? Here's CBSSports.com's Tony Barnhart:



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: Tyrann Mathieu's Twitter smack talk might have rubbed some opponents the wrong way, but the Tide's Courtney Upshaw doesn't seem likely to be all that bothered. In fact, when asked about the Bayou Bengals, he seems like something of a fan (emphasis added):
"I watch LSU, honestly ... Whenever we have a chance in the hotel, we're watching games, me and my roommate. There are a bunch of guys when I'm watching I'm like, 'Wow, those guys are real good.' And Tyrann Mathieu, I like that guy to death."
Right up until kickoff, we imagine.

The Tide returned to practice Tuesday after taking Monday off, but per Nick Saban haven't started LSU-specific game prep just yet. “[Wednesday] we'll work hard on fundamentals, and start later in the week with our preparation for the game we have next week," he said.

On the Tide injury front, starting right guard Anthony Steen has recovered from the concussion that kept him out of the Tide's win over Tennessee and is expected to return to the starting lineup vs. LSU. (His replacement vs. the Vols, Alfred McCullough, will now serve as the backup left tackle after the loss of Cyrus Kouandjio.) But there was some minor bad news as the Tide will miss reserve linebacker Jonathan Atchison, due to undergo bicep surgery this week. Atchison had appeared in two games this season without a tackle.

VIDEO BREAK: So, yes, this little promotional video was made by an (ahem) rival network. But it's too good not to share:



THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE:
If you read yesterday's Daily this didn't come as a surprise, but the "Synthetic Three" were officially reinstated to the Tiger roster yesterday and practiced with the team. "We're preparing them to play," Les Miles said. "We plan on using them."

It goes without saying that having players like Mathieu, Spencer Ware and Tharold Simon around for the biggest game of their careers might be a little helpful. But Miles has to be particularly happy the issue has been resolved as quickly as it has been; brilliant as they are, all three players are only sophomores and will no doubt need an ample amount of practice time to be fully ready for an opponent like Alabama. If the decision (reportedly made by athletic director Joe Alleva) had dragged out much further, the results could have been seen on the field.

On the topic of suspensions, Miles dropped this typically wonderful Milesism:
"It's a real lifetime lesson. Just put yourself in the wrong spot and have proximity to real issues, and suddenly you're out of control. When you don't have control of the decisions that need to be made for your happiness, that's misery."
Like the Tide, the Tigers also got some good injury news on the offensive line. Miles said starting center P.J. Lonergan is practicing again after an ankle injury sidelined him the past two weeks, setting him up for a return vs. the Tide.  "He could really have played Saturday," Mile said. "It just worked out that we didn't need him."

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com