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Point/Counterpoint: McCarron v. Mathieu et al
LSU's Tyrann Mathieu
LSU's Tyrann Mathieu
Posted Oct 31, 2011

Bama QB AJ McCarron and LSU DB Tyrann Mathieu have quite different styles: AJ is reserved in comparison to Tyrann's exuberance. While he can and does hit the big play, McCarron is more apt to lead his offense with a steady performance. While Mathieu is like a living big play magnet. CFN's Josh Mosley and Bart Doan take opposing sides on who will win the head-to-head battle this Saturday.

Josh Mosley – AJ McCarron

Alabama head coach Nick Saban has two rather weighty pieces for finger flare that say he can best LSU’s all-everything defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. The battle may appear to be between his sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron and Mathieu, but McCarron will only go as far as his head coach will let him stray.

Since wresting the starting spot from Phillip Sims after the Tide’s 41-7 win over Kent State to open the season, McCarron has completed 67 percent of his throws, thrown 10 touchdowns and only three interceptions on 1,664 yards. In road games at Happy Valley and in Gainesville, McCarron threw just one touchdown and completed ~53 percent of his passes.

Nobody is going to ask McCarron to be Tom Brady this Saturday, particularly against a stacked LSU defense, but one match-up you have to like is McCarron versus Mathieu. Because it’ll really be a 2-on-1 handicap match with the DB-master Saban pulling every lever and pushing every button to ensure McCarron doesn’t let Mathieu beat them.

Sure, you’d like your signal-caller to light up opposing secondaries like McCarron did in throwing for a career-high 284 yards against Tennessee. But you'd far rather like to win. And when you have as brutal a defense as Alabama has, you simply don’t need those kind of efforts.

There is no shame in playing not to lose, especially in the SEC. Saban might have a gigantic ego (as do about 98 percent of college head coaches), but it’s not so huge that he has to have his quarterback win the game for him. In fact, if anything Saban's ego is more intertwined with his defense. If I’m Saban or McCarron, winning the game is above everything, followed by not letting the Honey Badger beat you.

LSU, and Mathieu in particular, thrive off confusing opponents into turnovers. Alabama doesn’t give the ball away, averaging just one per game. Saban knows this. McCarron has probably heard it time and time again. They won’t start just giving the ball away willy-nilly in this year’s version of the College Game of the Decade. The key for McCarron will be to put the ball in the hands of his receivers on short patterns when asked, letting them get YAC (yards after catch), and lean heavily on stud running back Trent Richardson. That’s McCarron's wheelhouse, and Saban won’t let him go too far out of it.

Saban has had two weeks to scheme a way for McCarron to win the game without having to do much. The less McCarron has to do, the better Alabama will be. It’s minimalistic, it’s overly simplified and it’s boring. But it’s also largely how Saban won two national titles, so it’s probably a better strategy than what you or I can come up with. When it works, he can start looking toward ring number three.

Follow Josh on Twitter @jmosley6

Bart Doan – Mathieu et al

I want you to go outside with your digital camera. Point that bad boy straight at the sun, and take yourself a picture. Now, look at what you came up with, and know that isn’t near as glaring as the gap between AJ McCarron vs Tyrann Mathieu and the LSU secondary.

LSU has a number of major advantages in this game, but none are so abusively obvious as their secondary against a green AJ McCarron. LSU’s pass efficiency defense is ranked third in the nation, and that’s against competition like Gino Smith and Darron Thomas. You know, guys that have experience and reputations for tearing collegiate secondaries apart.

Tyrann Mathieu is probably the best pure football player in the game. Yes he's little and he won’t win the Heisman, but the latter is because he’s a defensive player and has been suspended this season, not because he doesn't deserve it for his play on the field. Make no mistake about it: the kid is as good as it gets. He’s not huge in stature, but he’s rarely out of place, is a cocksure tackler, and hits with a ton of bricks in a way that makes you think about going over the middle when he’s roaming in zone coverage.

Yes, the contrarian view might note that LSU gave up a boatload of passing yards to Smith and WVU, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that WVU spreads the ball all over the place with small, quick athletes. AJ McCarron is a caretaker, not a guy who will win you a football game. You get the feeling that Saban goes up to him before games and says “please don’t try to do anything special, so we can win”, because he’s not a game breaker. He can hand the ball off, and he can make the basic throws. But so far he has displayed little to no ingenuity or improvisational skills.

On top of that, LSU has 11 interceptions this year...ten of which are courtesy of defensive backs. That would be 11 more than McCarron has game winning drives. Look, the guy’s a caretaker. He’s charged with making sure he doesn’t lose the game for Alabama, and not winning it for them. He’s absolutely unproven in that regard, which means he's a weakness for the Tide in this game. He might be great…but he might not be.

Saban has never counted on his quarterbacks to be anything other than be efficient and steady. That doesn’t work against the best secondary in college football. They hit, they cover, they're disciplined on rush and pass coverage, are fast and rarely out of place, can and will blitz you with a fury, and don’t need help making tackles. McCarron's inexperience will allow LSU to play man coverage on the outside when they need to, and force AJ to make actual NFL throws to win. If he can do it when he has to, it’ll be the first time at this level. I’ll play the odds and say “no way.” Put on your crimson colored sun glasses of you want. The glare’s still there.

Follow Bart on Twitter @Bart_CFN

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