Point/Counterpoint: LSU's QBs v. Bama's D
LSU QB Jordan Jefferson
It's LSU's two-headed quarterback tandem versus the relentless Bama defense. Both have excelled so far this season, but something has to give. CFN's Bradlee Simoneaux and Evan Davis Jr. break down each side's arguments.
Bradlee Simoneaux – LSU's QBs
At the beginning of the season, the main issue surrounding LSU's football team was at quarterback. Jordan Jefferson had been suspended indefinitely, and nobody had forgotten Jarrett Lee's absolutely stunning pick-six freshman campaign. Many college football fans expected that junior college signee Zach Mettenberger would start for the Tigers from day one.
With a daunting slate to start the year, it appeared the Tigers' quarterback quandary would be the undoing of the 2011 LSU football team. Lee, apparently, didn't get the memo. All the fifth year senior has done is start every game and in the process led the Tigers to an 8-0 record and No. 1 ranking. And helping break LSU records along the way.
Lee has turned in an All-SEC performance so far this year. He ranks first in the conference in passing efficiency at 157.35. Just pause for a moment and re-read that - it's no mirage, either...it's November.
Lee has thrown for 1250 yards and has 12 touchdowns against only one interception. He has throw for a touchdown in every single game this season, and it has been six games since he committed his one and only turnover of the season, an poor toss with the Tigers up late in Starkville. It seems Lee has left his freshman season in the dust and is creating a new legacy for himself with one of the single best seasons for a quarterback in LSU history.
However, there's more.
Jefferson returned to the team in week five against Kentucky and has been an excellent change of pace for the Tigers. He has not thrown the ball much this year, attempting only 10 passes, but he has made the most of those attempts, completing six - including two for touchdowns. His 42 yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle against Auburn in the face of a brutal pass rush was, well, perfect.
However, Jefferson's real benefit has been his running ability, and the burden it places on opposing defenses to prepare and execute against both quarterbacks. He has rushed the ball 26 times in his four games back for 111 yards and two TDs. Here's a stat to drive home his impact: Jefferson has been responsible for at least one touchdown, either passing or rushing, in every game he has played this season - all conference games.
With Spencer Ware pounding the ball between the tackles and Michael Ford breaking free to the outside, along with the bevy of other running backs in LSU's arsenal, this will provide Lee and Jefferson the ability to draw the Tide defense to the line of scrimmage and open up the defense to be susceptible to play-action. Rueben Randle has caught several deep passes this season, and most of them have been off play-action where the corners and safeties get caught looking into the backfield a little too long, allowing the explosive wide receiver to show off why he was the number one recruit in the country coming out of high school.
Certainly Alabama's defense has excelled this season, however to be fair, it should be; the Tide has only faced one offense with a pulse, and that was the one-dimensional Razorbacks. LSU will be the first team Bama has played all year that has a potent attack both through the air and on the ground. Moreover, the LSU QBs lead multiple different looks - they'll lead a spread offense, a pro-style, shotgun and three tight ends... This is a material advantage for the Tigers.
This will also be the toughest defense that Alabama has gone against all season; as a result, Alabama could have less of a time of possession advantage than it has enjoyed in previous weeks; if so, it will allow the LSU offense to wear down the Tide defense - which does not rely on depth as much as the LSU defense does.
LSU's experience and depth at quarterback will be a significant advantage in this game. McCarron has done very well so far this season, but he has never been called upon to perform against a team as tough as the Tigers. Both Lee and Jefferson have lived through the ups and downs and become better because of it. They have both faced some of the toughest defenses this conference has to offer and gotten better because of it. This is why LSU will be more confident to take shots downfield, and will be able to utilize a more balanced playbook than the Tide, which will be the difference in a marquee contest like this one.
Follow Bradlee on Twitter @collftblmaniac
Evan Davis Jr. – Bama's D
The Alabama Crimson Tide has a very good defense; arguably the best in the country. The LSU Tigers have two quarterbacks, one whom missed the first four games of the season, and neither does anything exceptionally well in a simple and predictable offense. Playing the Crimson Tide will be their first real test and first loss of the season, as a QB carousel with average talent will not be able to penetrate a swarming, play-making fortress.
First off, the numbers are in Alabama's favor. The Crimson Tide is No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, total defense (reluctantly surrendering 180 ypg) and rushing defense (just 45 ypg). It ranks second in passing defense with a stingy 135 yards per game.
Bama has had two shutouts, not allowed more than the 14 points all year and only one team has rushed for more than 68 yards against them all season.
The D is second in the nation in third-down conversions, a measly 26%. While allowing a ridiculous 48% completion rate, Bama's opposing quarterbacks post a humiliating rating of just 48.1, as they can only settle for 4.5 yards per pass attempt.
Simply put, the Crimson Tide defense has a way of making quarterbacks stink.
For good reason, too. It's a stingy LB-centered defense based on speed. Such quickness and sideline-to-sideline agility is deadly, and the Bama D boasts some of the country's best athletes.
Opting to primarily use the 3-4, the defensive line is a rock against the run. Excellent coaching has the Tide utilizing gap control and maintaining gap responsibilities in truly textbook fashion. The tough and nasty front-liners understand that it is job number one to occupy as many offensive linemen as possible, so their linebackers can fly around and make plays. Josh Chapman, the stalwart in the middle of the line is a beast. He is constantly double-teamed, but holds his own, as per plan.
Bama fields the best linebacking corps in the country, having all-stars at every position. Dont'a Hightower does it all as the high football IQ middle linebacker; he chases down QBs from the edge, is a run-stopping force and makes all the calls and adjustments for his team. Courtney Upshaw's pass rushing is nothing short of excellent and gives the Tide a threat coming off the edge in passing situations, as both Nico Johnson and CJ Mosley rotate in on the weak side.
The linebackers are smart and athletic enough to key on both the RBs and QB. They will do both intermittently. Even experienced quarterbacks have a hard time reading the disguises in this defense, and LSU's Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee will be no different.
As running the ball is out of the question, Bama will force the Tigers to become a one-dimensional team and pass. Tough sledding for the SEC's No. 5 pass offense against the No. 1 pass defense. Jarrett Lee is the "passing" quarterback in the LSU's QB shuffle, and he's just not productive enough to shoulder a huge passing load; he hasn't attempted more than 28 passes all season. It cannot be expected that Lee will be able to pass his team to yardage and points, especially when the Crimson Tide's starting secondary has combined for more than 30 pass breakups.
Cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie and Dee Milliner may be unheralded compared to their linebackers, but they are extremely effective. They are the conference's only team that has allowed completions on less than half of their opponents' passes (48%). The safety play of veterans Mark Barron and Robert Lester has been brilliant. Alabama is allowing 135 yards per game through the air, which is second best in the SEC.
Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson will be no match for the Alabama defense. The superior linebackers will track down Jefferson as he runs from the quarterback position and Lee will not find much success in the air. Defense does win championships and the Crimson Tide will prove this again, beating LSU, then taking the SEC and BCS championships.
Follow Evan on Twitter @edjsports
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