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LSU @ Bama key match up: LSU’s passing attack vs Bama’s secondary

Sr Jarrett Lee has been exactly what LSU needed this season.  When Jordan Jefferson went through his pre-season legal troubles, many (including myself) wrote off Jarrett Lee and LSU’s national title hopes as a whole.  In that post I said, “Lee has a career stat line that has more interceptions than tds and a completion percentage close to 50”.  But for this season Lee has been on fire.  On the year Lee has 13 touchdowns passing (3rd in SEC) compared to only 1 interception (best among SEC starters); as well as a completion percentage of 63.2% (3rd in SEC).  He has a passer rating of 157.4 which is good enough for 13th nationally (2nd in SEC) and has only been sacked 4 times all season.  No one outside of Louisiana thought that Lee would be this good.  If you knew this was coming then either A) you need to take a little trip with me to Vegas, or B) you are a liar.

But lets not also forget that LSU has the winningest and most dangerous backup QB in the entire country, and a head coach that will definitely be putting both of them to use in this game.  Jordan Jefferson in his limited playing time since being back from suspension has only thrown 10 passes, but has completed 6 of them, 2 for touchdowns.  On top of Jefferson’s passing ability, he is a threat to run (111 yards on 26 carries, 2 tds).  The hat will give the Tide defense large doses of both quarterbacks, but do not be surprised if this is the most playing time Jefferson has seen all year (20+ snaps).

Lee has been accurate and done well protecting the football, and Jefferson adds the threat of running with the ball as well as big game experience.  Neither QB shys away from hitting multiple receivers in crucial situations as 8 different receivers have caught touchdown passes this season.

As stated, LSU has no shortage of talented receivers, but the big play maker out wide for the Tigers this season has been Rueben Randle.  Randle has caught 7 of 16 receiving touchdowns and has proven that he can score from anywhere on the field. Of those tds, 4 have come from in the red zone, the other 3 have all been from over 40 yards out.  Randle leads the team in touchdowns but also receptions with 33 and yards with 638, and averages nearly 20 yards a catch, 80 yards a game.  He is also coming off his biggest game of the year two weeks ago vs Auburn; his stat line is an impressive 5 receptions for 106 yards (21.2 avg) and 2 tds.

Other talented wide outs in the Tigers stable include Odell Beckham Jr (27 rec, 334 yds, 2 tds), TE Deangelo Peterson (12 rec, 137 yds, 1td), and last years leading receiver Russell Shepard (9 rec, 116 yds, 2 tds) who had to sit out the first three games due to NCAA rules violations.

Looking to stop this dangerous LSU passing game will be the stout Alabama secondary that ranks 2nd nationally in completion percentage against (48.15%), total passing yards (1085), passing yards per game (135.63), and 1st in passing tds allowed (4).  These stats are even more impressive when you factor in that most teams were forced to throw in second halves of games because they were down by so much.  In only 3 games this season has Bama not been up by 14 at the half, tied with Tennessee, and up by 10 on both Arkansas and Ole Miss.  By the end of the 3rd quarters of those games the Alabama leads had grown to 21 (Tenn), 24 (Ark), and 38 (Miss).  Basically there has not been a game that wasn’t out of hand by the 4th, so teams have been looking to complete passes, they just haven’t.

The veteran defensive backfield is led by first team all-American Sr safety Mark Barron.  Barron is in his third year as a starter and has been one of the best defensive backs in the country in his time at Alabama, racking up first team all-SEC honors for both previous seasons.  If LSU was looking to stay away from Barron, they will not find a much easier battle against Bama’s other safety, Jr Robert Lester.  Lester was himself a first team all-SEC preseason selection.  Head coach Nick Saban likes to mix up his coverages and the safeties could be anywhere on the field for any given play.  Their job descriptions include everything from playing deep coverage, tight man coverage, to gap assignments and blitzes.  The safeties are Saban’s most versatile and therefore unpredictable defensive weapons.  If you have any questions about their play-making abilities, please refer to the pictures provided.

Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie will have the duties on the outside for the Tide.  Both are capable corners that excel at man coverage, but also play well as part of a zone.  Both are physical players and they will be looking to disrupt the LSU receivers at the line of scrimmage.  LSU’s receivers will have to be just as physical to get a clean release if they want to be able to find soft spots in the Alabama defense before the pass rush finds the quarterback.

As good as the Alabama defensive backfield has been, the main priority in Tuscaloosa is and always will be stopping the run.  Many plays will see one or both safeties up near the line of scrimmage.  Look for LSU to try deep throws early and often, especially off of play action to try and open the field up and keep those safeties in coverage.  Odds are that at some point the hat will get Randle loose at least once, and the Tigers will capitalize.  Edge to Louisiana State.

-Jeff

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