Okay, back in just the nick of time.
I had hoped to have a lot more content this week coming off the bye, but as luck would have it, work got ridiculously busy the past 2 weeks and I ended up getting nothing done. (When I said Coaching Carousel would be "bi-weekly" I guess I really meant "monthly at best." This is why I don't do projects...) I'll admit to having some free time last night, but, gosh, that Cam Newton story was awfully diverting.
Anyway, I'm skipping over the usual Unsolicited Advice routine to focus on THE matchup of Bama's upcoming game with LSU: Julio Jones vs. Patrick Peterson.
Beyond that, it's your typical recipe for success for the Tide. LSU's quarterbacks are terrible, so if you can stop the run and don't give them short fields off turnovers, they can't do anything. Stevan Ridley is having a solidly productive year and should break 1,000 yards for the Tigers, but he doesn't strike fear in my heart. And if Bama can get Ingram and Richardson on track, they're tough for anybody to beat, let alone Lester.
I mean, I could take some time to hammer home the two major points I've been harping about for the past month (get off to a good start on the road and THROW THE BALL DEEP), but if you're a regular reader here, you've heard enough of that from me already. Just know it's still applicable. If you're new, well, go read my stuff about every game Bama played in October. You'll get the picture in a hurry.
I'd rather take this time to focus your attention on this colossal matchup of future 1st round NFL draft picks out on the edge. Both guys know that this game is going to have a huge impact on their draft stock, and both have had 2 weeks to prepare. This is going to be incredible football. Before we get into this year's game, let's look at how these guys have matched up the past two seasons.
2008: Alabama 27, LSU 21
Jones: 7 catches for 128 yards
Peterson: 4 tackles, 1 interception
Up until his recent outburst against Tennessee, this was probably the high water mark of Julio's career in terms of dominating a game. At this point, Peterson was an obviously talented kid learning on the job.
Signature Moment of the Game: On the first play of Alabama's possession in overtime, Julio drew one-on-one coverage against Peterson. Jones beat him down the sideline then caught a back shoulder fade and took the ball 24 yards to the 1 yard line. Only a great, diving effort from Peterson kept Jones out of the endzone. Not that it mattered in the end. The Tide would ultimately win it on a John Parker Wilson quarterback keep.
2009: Alabama 24, LSU 15
Jones: 4 catches for 102 yards, 1 TD
Peterson: 3 tackles, 3 pass breakups
A battered and worn Julio didn't fare quite as well in the rematch. Though he did makes some plays, including a 73 yard TD off a screen pass that broke the game open for Bama, he failed to make a single catch when matched up against Peterson.
Signature Moment of the Game: Bama fans will always remember Julio's TD. But LSU fans will always remember Peterson's non-interception on the sideline. Being that this is a spotlight on Julio/Peterson, I'll go with the Peterson play. Down 6 points with 6 minutes to go, LSU needed a big play, and, by all appearances, Peterson made it. On 2nd and 7, Greg McElroy rolled right and forced an ill-advised throw down the sideline to Jones. Peterson jumped all over it. It seemed readily apparent to everyone watching that Peterson had made the catch and got at least one foot down inbounds, but for whatever reason (shoddy monitors, the ridiculously restrictive replay rules), the replay officials saw it differently. Who's to say what would have happened if Peterson had gotten the call? Alabama went on to ice the game with a field goal and an interception of Jarrett Lee.
So that brings us to 2010. Barring some bizarre, calamitous injury scenario, this will be the last time Jones and Peterson face each other until they're cashing checks in the league. How are they doing so far?
Julio is somewhat quietly having a career year. Through 8 games, he's already surpassed his numbers in receptions and yardage in 14 games in an injury-plagued 2009 (currently 45 catches for 669 yards with 3 TDs) and is on pace to top all of his numbers from his stellar freshman campaign. His stats would be even better if he hadn't missed most of the Ole Miss game dealing with the after effects of his broken hand. He was having NO trouble getting open in the early going of that one.
Conversely, Peterson's year has just been quiet, period. He's only collected 2 interceptions, and both of those came in the same game against Mississippi State. Of course, this is as much a complement to him as anything. Teams just aren't throwing his way with any regularity. He has also suffered from a lack of competition. There's been no AJ Green or Alshon Jeffery on LSU's schedule to matchup with thus far, and with Greg Childs out for the season at Arkansas, that's one less worthy opponent for him. To this point, the best receiver he's faced is Auburn's Darvin Adams. And, obviously, their offense isn't run through the receivers this year. This game will perhaps be his only opportunity to compete against a comparable talent at receiver all year.
So here's what's going to happen:
LSU is going to come out and play Peterson one-on-one in man with Julio. They have every confidence in his ability to handle Julio. This will allow them to take the safety that you might normally play over the top of Julio and either move him into the box to assist with the run or to shade their zones to the other side of the field to take away McElroy's second option, say, Marquis Maze (6 catches for 88 yards vs. LSU in 09). If Peterson wins that battle, LSU can turn this into the sort of ugly 13-10 type of game that they can win. Bama's offensive line is good this year, but they've struggled when defenses have gotten 8 or so guys within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage. LSU's front 7 is a bit undersized, but 8 or 9 little guys shooting the gaps can still be a problem.
For Bama to win, or at least win comfortably, Julio has to win that battle better than 50% of the time. No one should expect Julio to just come out and own an elite talent like Peterson, but he's going to have to scare LSU enough in the early going that they pull that safety over to him. Force them to play an honest 7 guys in the box. As long as the defense doesn't go up in flames early on the road (not out of the question, obviously), expect the game plan to feature a mix of designed throws to Julio to start the game. A screen then a go route, a curl then a pick route across the middle, maybe even a sweep out of the wildcat or something. Anything to get more eyeballs on him and open it up for Ingram and Richardson. And, of course, Julio has to make the catches when McElroy gets him the ball. None of this getting amped up and looking to make a play before he has the ball like he sometimes does. If he can succeed, I think Bama wins this comfortably by 10 or 14 points.
And that's the game in a nutshell. Two of the best in the country are going to go heads up with championship hopes and a lot of prospective NFL cash on the line. Should be a lot of fun to watch. I just hope Julio wins...
Prior to the season, I called this game as a 27-17 win for the Tide. However with this Bama squad's road struggles and the offensive line's recent struggles with a stacked box, I'm going to cut down the margin of victory by a couple of field goals. I think the Julio/Peterson battle ends up somewhere in between the two extremes in terms of affecting the score. Call it:
Alabama 21, LSU 17