LSU Tigers @ Alabama Crimson Tide Preview

image: © thepipe26

image: © thepipe26

Just 282 miles and the state of Mississippi separate the cities of Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa, just over a five hour drive between two of the biggest powerhouses in college football.

Just 282 miles and the state of Mississippi separate the cities of Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa, just over a five hour drive between two of the biggest powerhouses in college football.

Four of the last six national championships have been split by the Crimson Tide and the Tigers, including the 2011 National Championship between the two teams.

LSU have been ranked in the top 25 every week for the last 75 weeks. That’s the second best active streak amongst FBS teams, second to only, you guessed it, Alabama with a whopping 95 weeks in a row of being a ranked team.

That’s how rivalries are built and this Sunday in Tuscaloosa, yet another chapter will be written in the great rivalry of Louisiana State and Alabama.

And like every other meeting in the past few years, this game is stacked with future NFL players, many of whom may end up being first round picks.

Quarterbacks

To start off the preview, look no further than the two starting quarterbacks, A.J. McCarron and Zach Mettenberger. The two redshirt seniors have an abundance of experience but rank very differently heading into this year’s draft.

Despite McCarron’s three National Championships, it will be Mettenberger who receives the attention from pro scouts and is rising very quickly up draft boards in this QB heavy .

The best comparisons for the two would be Zach Mettenberger has the skill set of a Joe Flacco; A tall, pocket passer with the ability to make throws deep down the field.

A.J. McCarron is more of a poor man’s Alex Smith; doesn’t have a strong arm, accurate in short to mid range and is the epitome of a game manager. McCarron has already reached his ceiling; what you see is what you get, hence why scouts would rather take a risk on Logan Thomas.

Offensive Line

Both quarterbacks are surrounded with great talent across the board. For A.J. McCarron, his supporting cast comes in the shape of Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen on the offensive line.

Whilst everyone will have heard of Kouandjio and know of his ability, redshirt Senior Anthony Steen is a guard to keep an eye on. In 2012, Steen gave up no penalties and no sacks. If it wasn’t for being inbetween Barrett Jones and DJ Fluker, he’d have garnered a lot more attention.

So far this season, he’s kept up his quietly dominant play. Have a watch of him against Ole Miss, where he spent most of the game opposite number one recruit Robert Nkemdiche. Steen did a great job keeping Nkemdiche quite and did a fantastic job in the run game

On the other side stands 6’5” 315lbs left tackle La’el Collins, who many have graded out as a second round talent. Collins missed last week’s game against Furman through injury but is on track to start in Tuscaloosa on Sunday. Collins moved to left tackle this offseason after spending two years at guard, the kind of experience which will appeal pro scouts.

Wide Receivers

Fun fact: Heading into this game, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry have accounted for 69 percent of LSU’s receptions this year.

Quite possibly the best wide receiving tandem in the SEC, and maybe even the country, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry have stolen the show for LSU on offense. Both juniors, Landry and Beckham Jr. could both be gone by the end of the second round in this year’s draft.

Out of the two receivers, though both talented, Beckham Jr. is the better of the two. At just six foot, Beckham makes up for his lack of size with speed and shiftiness, getting in and out of his cuts very quickly and gaining separation from his defenders. He’s got incredible hands and makes plays when he gets the ball. As a dual threat receiver and equally dangerous returner, he’ll be competing with Sammy Watkins and Marquise Lee to be the first receiver off the board.

Opposite Beckham Jr. is Jarvis Landry, the comfort blanket for the LSU offense. Whilst Odell Beckham Jr. is the unquestionable deep threat of the two, Landry tends to work out of the slot as the underneath to intermediate receiver.

Put simply, Jarvis Landry is the chain mover for Louisiana State.

He’s a lot more physical than Beckham Jr. and at time, you can mistake him for a tight end with the way he blocks and his fearlessness in doing so. He’s an all round, tough receiver who could end up as a very valuable slot receiver in the NFL.

On the other side of the ball, the Crimson Tide has Amari Cooper, a highly rated prospect suffering a surprising down year.

Cooper earned Freshman All-American honours in his first year in Tuscaloosa with a 1,000 yard season and 11 touchdowns. So far this season, he has not been able to repeat the success.

With just 20 catches, 304 yards and two touchdowns in seven games, Cooper has been nursing an injured toe but will need a strong finish to the season and an even stronger junior year to rebuild his draft stock for 2015 when he becomes eligible.

Running Backs

The LSU Tigers are typically  very good at running the ball through a committee but this year comes with a slight twist

Sophomore Jeremy Hill leads a Tigers running game which ranks 32nd in the nation with senior Alfred Blue and juniors Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee shouldering a potion of the load.

Hill, who will be eligible for the 2015 draft, is a running back already on NFL team’s radars after he burst onto the scene as a freshman and never looked back. And this isn’t strictly a four headed committee either. Hill receives 45 percent of the running back carries, compared to Terrence Magee’s second highest 20 percent. Les Miles acknowledges the incredible talent that Jeremy Hill is, and rightly so with 12 touchdowns of 128 carries, good for second most in the SEC.

Hill will be a key factor in Saturday’s game. If he can produce another 100 yard performance against the Crimson Tide, Bama will have to make the tough decision on whether to commit to stopping Landry and Beckham Jr. or Jeremy Hill.

As for Alabama, it’s another year, another great running back. Following in the footsteps of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson isn’t easy, but T.J. Yeldon has performed admirably.

But with the recent blow out wins, fellow sophomore Kenyan Drake, who was surprisingly not even on the preseason depth chart at the start of the year, has been given the ability to show off his potential and has taken the most of his opportunity.

It’ll be interesting to see whether his recent performances will be enough for Nick Saban to increase his game time. As it stands, Yeldon is the undoubted starter for the Crimson Tide, but in what will be a physical game against LSU; Drake may be called upon early and more often than he has in the season so far.

Defensive Line

The cornerstone of Alabama’s 3-4 defense is senior defensive end Ed Stinson.

His stats don’t jump off the page; just 27 tackles, two for a loss and 1.5 sacks, but his ability to disrupt plays and occupy double teams makes the job for the rest of the front seven so much easier.

Stinson isn’t the type of player who will put up monster numbers. He is clearly the best player on the defensive line and opposing offensive lines acknowledge this. He is a force in the run game and should be a nice two down run stuffer in the NFL next year.

As for LSU, their 4-3 defense is anchored by monster defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson.

Johnson entered the season as one of the best defensive tackle prospects in the country, but when you look at the tape, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. He reacts very quickly to the snap but doesn’t get off blocks as much as he should do. He flashes of the freakish ability but has great trouble with consistency.

Nicknamed “The Freak”, Johnson has infrequently shown his freakish ability so far this year and faces one of the best guards in the country in Anthony Steen this Saturday, a stern test for the underachieving prospect.

Next to Johnson is Ego Ferguson, who also is likely to jump to the NFL following this season according to Tony Pauline. However, Ferguson could really benefit from another year in Baton Rouge, with a college career spent in the shadows of Michael Brockers, Bennie Logan, Josh Downs and Anthony Johnson.

As it stand, Ferguson is pushing to be a second day pick, but another year at LSU and a year to take the spotlight for himself could really give him a chance to develop and show off his ability. So far this season, he has 42 tackles, compared to Johnson’s 27, but Johnson leads the team with three sacks, with Ferguson only recording one so far.

Linebackers

C.J. Mosley is the undoubted linebacker to watch out for on Saturday night.

Mosley will most likely be one of the safest, least flashy first round picks in the 2014 draft. He’s not a player who will send mass excitement throughout the fanbase, but he’s got incredible instincts and is a great tackler. You can expect teams like Detroit, Buffalo and Chicago to take interest come the draft in April.

The other potential future first round linebacker for Bama is SAM linebacker Adrian Hubbard. The redshirt junior racked up seven sacks as a sophomore but hasn’t recorded one this year. He’s been solid, but his inability to get sacks this year will only decrease his draft stock. Hubbard can return to Tuscaloosa in 2014, an option he would be wise to take up.

And finally, with Nick Saban and Alabama producing quality linebackers year in and year out, of course there is another player to watch out for. Starting MIKE linebacker Trey DePriest is another player who could jump ship to the NFL this year.

DePriest was set for what seemed to be a breakout year before breaking his foot in spring practice last April. He hasn’t missed any game time because of it, but it clearly put a stunt in his progression. DePriest is a junior who should be back for the Crimson Tide next year.

As for LSU, their linebacking core is a lot simpler: Lamin Barrow, followed by a star in the making in Kwon Alexander.

Barrow is the starting WILL linebacker for the Tigers and though he won’t receiver early attention in this year’s draft, he leads LSU with 64 tackles, the seventh most in the SEC. At 6’2” and 230lbs, Barrow will need to bulk up at the next level, but should be able to play as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 or an inside linebacker in a 3-4. The senior does a great job of getting off blocks for a linebacker but still remains an early day three pick at the moment due to his deficiencies in pass coverage

As for Kwon Alexander, he’s definitely a player to watch out for next season when he becomes draft eligible. Alexander is another freakish athlete on the LSU defense and if he can stay healthy, he’ll be well on his way to being a high draft pick.

The sophomore is second on the team in tackles and has continued to make a big impression following his breakout freshman year. With Kevin Minter now in the NFL and Lamin Barrow headed their next year, Alexander will have a chance to have the limelight for himself in 2014

Defensive Backs

Junior Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix is the stud of the Alabama secondary. But he’s not alone, with former #1 ranked safety in the country Landon Collins playing excellent ball this year. Additionally, it gives us a great reason to remind you of when Collins, a New Orleans, LA native, committed to Alabama, much to his mother’s dismay.

Each year, there is one safety that is head and shoulders above the rest of the safeties in their draft class. In 2010, there was Eric Berry. 2011 had Earl Thomas. 2012 had Alabama standout Mark Barron and last year, it was Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro.

In 2014, that safety is Ha-Ha Clinton Dix.

In 2015, that Safety may well be Landon Collins – or Vinnie Sunseri, should he recover from his knee injury.

Either way, Landon Collins was in line to play the “Money” position for Bama, basically their sixth defensive back when they went into their Dime package. However, due to Clinton-Dix’s suspension and Sunseri’s injury, Collins has seen plenty of game time with the starting line-up and the Bama secondary hasn’t missed a beat.

As for LSU, the Tigers have a young and exciting group of cornerbacks who continue to make plays, headed by First-Team Freshman All-American Jalen Mills. Mills was a solid starter for LSU last year and has only built on his performances with two interceptions and three sacks so far.

Not far behind Mills at “DB U” is 2012 Freshman All-SEC cornerback Jalen Collins. Though he had a great first season for LSU, he sits behind redshirt freshman Tre’Davious White on the depth chart, who is having an outstanding year.

White leads the team with six pass defenses, joint sixth in the SEC. White,along with Mills and Collins, are growing and getting better quickly, giving LSU a potentially vicious defensive backfield next year. If Alabama are known for their production of running backs and linebackers, LSU is definitely keeping up their wide receivers and cornerbacks.

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