Top-five foes clash in marquee SEC matchup
Baton Rouge, LA (Sports Network) - A rematch of last year's national championship game is on tap in Baton Rouge this weekend, as the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide put their undefeated season in serious jeopardy against the fifth-ranked LSU Tigers in a key SEC West Division battle.
The defending national champions have done everything in their power to repeat in 2012, as Nick Saban's Crimson Tide have rolled over all of the competition placed in front of them to this point. Alabama is a perfect 8-0 on the season and moved to 5-0 in SEC play with last weekend's rout of nationally-ranked Mississippi State, 38-7.
Les Miles' Tigers are coming off a bye and haven't looked as dominant over the course of the season as Alabama. Still, they have put themselves in a position to contend for another national title nonetheless at 7-1. LSU has won two straight games since its only loss of the season (14-6 at Florida) and knocked off nationally-ranked Texas A&M two weeks ago 24-19 to move to 3-1 in league play.
These two SEC rivals met in the BCS National Championship Game a year ago in New Orleans, a game won by Alabama, 21-0. The Crimson Tide got revenge for last year's regular-season bout, won by LSU in overtime, 9-6. This marks the 77th all-time meeting in this series, with Alabama holding a 46-25-5 advantage.
The Crimson Tide are getting the job done offensively with great balance, averaging over 200 yards both on the ground (214.4 ypg) and through the air (22.0 ypg).
It all starts with veteran quarterback AJ McCarron, who has orchestrated an offense that has played relatively mistake-free football. McCarron has completed 68.9 percent of his passes, for 1,684 yards. The real telling statistic however, is his 18 touchdown passes against zero interceptions. McCarron comes into this game a little banged up but is listed as probable.
McCarron's efficiency has not gone unnoticed by Coach Miles.
"The quarterback A.J. McCarron just seems to make all the throws," said Miles at his weekly press conference. "He's a quality leader. He's thrown 18 touchdowns and no interceptions."
Amari Cooper has emerged as the go-to-guy in the passing attack, leading the way with 32 catches, for 472 yards and five TDs, but everything is set up by the run and that's where freshman T.J. Yeldon (649 yards, 7.0 ypc, seven TDs) and junior Eddie Lacy (596 yards, 5.5 ypc, seven TDs) come into play. The pair have been a lethal one-two punch in the backfield and a big reason for Alabama's nearly +6 minutes in time of possession.
Another big reason for a positive in time of possession is the way Alabama's defense has dominated play. The Crimson Tide lead the nation in scoring defense (8.1 ppg), rush defense (57.3 ypg), pass defense (145.9 ypg) and of course total defense ( 203.1 ypg). Big plays abound, with Alabama ranking sixth nationally in interceptions (14) and fourth in turnovers gained (23).
Linebacker play has fueled the defense, as C.J. Mosley has played at an All- American level. The 6-2 junior leads the team in tackles (65), with 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. Fellow LBs Trey DePriest (34 tackles) and Nico Johnson (32 tackles) have made their share of plays as well. The secondary is highlighted by sophomore Vinnie Sunseri (36 tackles, two INTs) and senior Robert Lester (21 tackles, three INTs).
LSU isn't a team that is going to light up the scoreboard against quality competition, but LSU possesses enough talent on that side of the football to beat most teams on the schedule. The strength of the offense is the ground attack, which is churning out 208.4 yards per game.
Backfield depth has been needed with injuries, but a number of backs have contributed, including Kenny Hilliard (420 yards, 5.9 ypc, six TDs) and Michael Ford (357 yards, 5.9 ypc, three TDs). Spencer Ware (4.1 ypc) has been in and out of the lineup but remains a dangerous weapon in the backfield as well.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has made plays with his arm this season, but not enough of them. He has connected on 56.6 percent of his throws, for 1,419 yards but has just seven TD passes against four interceptions. No one has stood out in the receiving corps, with Odell Beckham Jr. leading the team with a modest 26 receptions.
There aren't many defenses on the national level that can match Alabama's intensity, but the SEC has one almost as dominant in LSU. The Tigers are yielding just 14.8 ppg this year, showing equal proficiency against the run (94.9 ypg) and the pass (148.5 ypg).
The front seven for LSU is chock-full of playmakers, led by linebacker Kevin Minter, who paces the team in tackles (75) and TFLs (9.5), with 3.0 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. Up front, rush ends Sam Montgomery (23 tackles, 9.0 TFLs, 4.0 sacks), Barkevious Mingo (23 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks) and Lavar Edwards (18 tackles, 6.0 TFLs, 3.5 sacks) are the players to keep an eye on, as well as defensive tackle Bennie Logan (21 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks). Safety Eric Reid (50 tackles, two INTs) is the top playmaker in the secondary.
Saban prepares his team as well as any coach in the country week-in and week- out.
"This is a great team and a great program we are playing," said Saban about LSU. "I think the most important thing for us to do is focus on preparing to play our best football. It's always what's important when you play good teams. It's to do a good job in preparation and have a good understanding of what you want to do. When you are playing on the road, it takes a special focus to be able to execute and do the things and stay tuned to what you have to do to be successful."
LSU enters the game with the nation's longest win streak at home, a school- record 22 straight games and that could play a big part in this contest.
"I can tell you that our team will look forward to playing in this stadium," said Miles. "There's no place like it. The environment that can be created in Tiger Stadium certainly will help the home team. Our guys play best in that stadium and in that environment. I think they'll look forward to playing in it. I imagine it will be pretty special."
10/31 10:54:21 ET