LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Alabama's AJ McCarron are more alike than they are different.
Mettenberger and McCarron are both experienced senior quarterbacks who are accurate and efficient. They lead run-first, pro-style offenses with a plethora of weapons at their disposal.
They both also are excellent at throwing the corner route, one of the most difficult passes a defensive back can defend.
A receiver runs five or more yards downfield then breaks toward the sideline at a 45-degree angle on a corner route. When ran to perfection, it is a difficult route to stop for a defensive back in zone or man coverage.
Both LSU and Alabama ran the play to perfection in critical moments in last season's affair.
Mettenberger's best game came against Alabama. His best throw of the season came in the fourth quarter to Odell Beckham Jr.
LSU lined up in an I-Formation with only one receiver on the play, Beckham Jr. The Tigers had success running the football, so Alabama clearly keys a run.
The Tigers know Alabama believes a run is coming, but they also guess Beckham Jr.'s cornerback, Deion Belue, will have safety help over the top to help cover the shifty receiver.
LSU runs a rare one-man route with nine players in protection. By only running Beckham Jr. on the route, the Tigers trust Mettenberger to deliver a tight pass on the money in between Belue and safety Robert Lester.
Alabama's linebackers were completely fooled, as expected. The pass protection on the play is flawless. It is now up to Mettenberger to deliver the football on the money.
Beckham Jr. begins his route on the play by running in a straight line upfield. He and fellow LSU star receiver Jarvis Landry is excellent at disguising their route. Belue opens his body to the inside, which is proper technique in zone coverage knowing he has safety help with Robert Lester.
Mettenberger delivers the pass in a perfect pocket. For LSU to give up a sack on the play would be embarrassing.
Notice where Beckham Jr. is on the route when the ball is delivered. He is beginning his break toward the sideline, knowing where the ball will be delivered.
While the ball is in the air, notice where Beckham Jr. is now on the route. He has great separation from Belue and Lester, but Belue does a fine job to sink back to help cover on the play. But because Belue opened up his hips to the inside to begin the play, he must now flip his hips again to track back to help. This costs him some speed and momentum.
Belue and Beckham Jr. now rise up to make a catch. Belue is back there with him but is flat-footed from flipping his hips twice.
Beckham Jr. vise-grips the pigskin, despite Belue getting a hand on it. A perfect catch on a perfectly thrown ball against excellent coverage.
This pass completed a crucial first down for LSU. The Tigers moved the chains and eventually put Alabama on their own 25-yard-line with less than a minute remaining. Down by three, Alabama needed a score to keep its record unblemished.
McCarron would strike the Tigers with the corner route on the second play of his masterful game-winning 75-yard drive. Alabama's best slot receiver, Kevin Norwood, was the recipient.
Alabama has no timeouts late in the fourth quarter. Getting first downs is the objective for the clock to stop momentarily, but it is even better to get out of bounds in the process. A corner route is perfect as it is ran toward the sideline.
Norwood is being guarded by freshman Micah Eugene, who is playing soft man coverage. Norwood gets a free release of the line and begins his route.
Norwood is able to gain multiple yards of separation when he and Eugene make contact. This is an easy throw for an experienced quarterback like McCarron to make.
The ball is thrown a tad late, but Eugene is sprawling to track back in coverage. He cannot rise to challenge the catch, as Norwood catches it easily and falls out of bounds.
Alabama attacked Tyrann Mathieu on the same play in the 2012 BCS National Championship.
Norwood does a great job taking a first step to get Mathieu off balance. Mathieu opens his body to the sideline, which is proper technique in man coverage.
Norwood uses his left hand to give a quick swat of Mathieu's arm and midsection. All experienced receivers know they can get away with a slight push on a defender's elbow, especially at the beginning of the route. It is never called and gets the defensive back even more off balance.
Norwood intentionally sticks his body into Mathieu to position himself with another effort to gain leverage and get the defender off balance. Norwood's head is looking to the inside, which makes it look as if he is heading in that direction.
Instead, Norwood gets away with the slightest of shoves and releases in the opposite direction. By looking to the inside and forcing his body momentum to inside, it forces Mathieu to stumble.
Now Norwood begins to gain even more separation. All McCarron must do is deliver a decently thrown football.
Much like Belue against Beckham Jr., Mathieu tracks back to challenge the catch. But because he is flat-footed, the bigger Norwood is able to rise above him to make a nice catch to move the chains.
Eugene probably played the route the worst of all three plays diagramed, but the defense was not necessarily poorly played. More credit should be given to the great execution of the offenses.
Beckham Jr. and Norwood are both superb receivers who run crisp routes. LSU's Landry and Alabama's Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White are all excellent ball-catchers in their own right. Landry could be the best at running the corner route on either team.
The best way to stop the route in man coverage is to get a great jam at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the timing of the play. In zone, safeties must read the play fast to help corners defend against it.
Defensive backs are at a massive disadvantage with the current rules. Offensive players are allowed to get away with so much more than defensive backs. Quarterbacks who are as accurate as Mettenberger and McCarron make it difficult to bat down the pass.
All it takes is a nudge to get a defensive back off balance, particularly in man coverage. Experienced receivers are great at hiding slight pulls and pushes. As shown above, Norwood does it to perfection.
A corner route against zone is difficult because a corner must flip his hips twice to defend it, as shown with Belue. Quickness means as much as speed at defensive back on routes such as these.
Mettenberger went 24-of-35 for a season-high 298 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort last season against Alabama. McCarron has won a national championship and led the most important game-winning drive in the Saban era against LSU.
Mettenberger and McCarron have played some of their best football against each other's team. If both continue that trend, expect some fireworks in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.
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