Since arriving at Alabama in 2007, Nick Saban has corralled SEC opponents and generally had his way with whoever has tried to oppose him. But of all his frequent adversaries, the LSU Tigers—his former team—have always been the hardest to tame.
So was the case in 2012, when Alabama needed a frantic late-game comeback and heroic final drive to win at Tiger Stadium, 21-17. It was a victory well earned, but it also would have been a loss much deserved.
In that game, the Crimson Tide defense allowed a season-high 296 passing yards, more than 100 above its season average. Receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. combined for 149 yards on 12 receptions, finishing with an even distribution of 76 and 73 yards, respectively.
Since the start of the 2010 season—a span of 31 conference games—here is a list of other SEC receiving duos that have each surpassed the 70-yard mark against Alabama:
|Non-LSU WR Duos From SEC w/ 70+ Yards vs. 'Bama (since '10)|
You read that right.
Outside of last year's tilt with LSU, Alabama hasn't allowed two SEC receivers to perform so well since the 2009 conference championship game, when Florida's Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper combined for 162 yards in a blowout Crimson Tide win.
Landry and Beckham have already enjoyed inimitable success against Saban and Kirby Smart's defense—and since that game, LSU's passing attack has only improved while Alabama's secondary has softened.
Come Saturday evening in Tuscaloosa, that could be a recipe for success.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger played the best game of his life against Alabama in 2012, but until this season, some thought that performance was an outlier—the exception that proved the rule of his mediocrity.
Since Cam Cameron has taken over at offensive coordinator, though, Mettenberger has consistently looked as good as he did against the Crimson Tide, pushing the ball downfield in a system tailor-made for his strengths.
Mettenberger's strong arm and effortless deep ball mesh perfectly with Landry and Beckham, who are both big, physical targets but also capable of getting down the field.
Go to sleep on Beckham, and he could make your defense look like this:
Likewise, if you give Landry even small pockets of space to work with, he's capable of hauling in passes like a vacuum cleaner:
Alabama's defense famously struggled against Mike Evans of Texas A&M this year, letting the likely All-American loose for seven catches and 279 yards in College Station.
Landry doesn't quite have Evans' size, but he has more than enough (6'1'') to give 'Bama's defense similar issues by snatching jump balls out of midair.
And Beckham is plenty fast enough to burn them downfield for one of these:
Alabama will be without starting safety Vinnie Sunseri, too, as the junior tore his ACL against Arkansas and will miss the rest of the season. He was playing at an All-American level before going down, so no matter how much depth Alabama has, Sunseri's presence will be missed.
Even with Sunseri, though, this unit is weaker in 2013 than it was last year, when current NFL players Dee Milliner (the ninth overall pick) and Robert Lester were in the starting lineup.
Now Milliner and Lester are gone, Cameron has been added to the equation and Mettenberger looks like a totally different player. Those are the elements that have changed since last year's game, when Landry and Beckham enjoyed rare success against the Alabama secondary.
By what foolish token should we expect that to change on Saturday?
"We know [the game is] probably going to come down to two or three plays," said Alabama guard Anthony Steen, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com. "If they have two good plays and an 80-yard pass and an 80-yard run, then we might lose."
Having been through the Alabama-LSU rivalry four times before (including his redshirt year in 2009), Steen understands the fickleness of these games. Like he said, two big plays might be enough to cost Alabama its season.
Big plays of that nature are sometimes the result of defensive breakdowns, but more often than not, they are the product of skill-position players putting the team on their back.
Having not one, but two guys capable of doing that gives LSU an unspeakable advantage over every other team on Alabama's schedule.
Nick Saban will not sleep easy as he prepares for them.