LSU vs. Alabama: Who Has the Edge at Each Position?

Dr. SECAnalyst IINovember 4, 2011

LSU vs. Alabama: Who Has the Edge at Each Position?

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    It is being labeled as the game of the century. Will it live up to its height? I believe that it will. As a result, I have gone position by position to determine which team has the advantage at each position.

    This is difficult because they run different formations on offense and defense. However, I believe that they are comparable at most positions.

    You might feel different about some of my choices and that is okay. It just shows how well matched these two teams are.

    I hope you enjoy this exclusive and detailed look at how these teams match up.

Quarterback: A,J, McCarron Versus Jarrett Lee

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    For those who believe that LSU and Alabama used similar blueprints to get their teams to this level, they need to look no further than Tigers quarterback Jarrett Lee and Crimson Tide signal caller A.J. McCarron.

    Neither quarterback will ever be confused with Andrew Luck or Kellen Moore. However, both have been efficient at what they have been called upon to do.  Lee and McCarron are expected to manage the game, not win it.

    McCarron has been efficient this season, completing 134-of-200 passes for 1,664 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Lee has been consistent as well; completing 98-of-155 for 1,250 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception.

    Lee leads the SEC in efficiency rating and McCarron is second. Lee boasts a 157.4 and McCarron has registered a 150.4. McCarron has attempted more passes and completed more yards, but Lee has completed more touchdowns with only a third of the interceptions.

    On paper this is a push. However, Lee has a quarterback that he can team with.

    Advantage: LSU

Running Back: Trent Richardson Versus Spencer Ware

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    Both LSU and Alabama use a running back by committee approach. The Tigers go three-wide often, splitting carries between Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Alfred Blue. The three have combined for 1,205 yards on 264 carries and 16 touchdowns this season.

    Alabama does not usually go deeper than two running backs, but both of those backs are phenomenal. The Crimson Tide are led by Heisman candidate Trent Richardson and potential 2012 Heisman candidate Eddie Lacy.

    The two running backs have combined for 1,454 yards on 207 carries and 22 touchdowns this season.

    Both teams are solid at the running back position and go three deep. However, Alabama is more top heavy with Trent Richardson and have the advantage at this point. However, it should be noted that it was reported that Lacy was still limping during practice from a turf toe he suffered weeks earlier against Florida.

    If he is not 100 percent, Alabama still has the edge at running back, but the gap is shortened greatly.


    Advantage: Alabama

No. 1 Wide Receiver: Marquis Maze Versus Rueben Randle

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    Marquis Maze is having a fine season. However, I must admit, he is not preforming at the level that I thought that he would. He has caught 39 passes for 482 yards, but only one touchdown.  His overall numbers are not that far off from what I projected. However, he has struggled with having a consistent impact on the game.

    He has had three strong games this season. Those games were against Kent State (118 yards), Vanderbilt (93 yards) and Tennessee (106 yards). In the other five games of the season he has averaged 33 yards and has not scored a touchdown.

    Rueben Randle. On the other hand, he has been dominating the competition all season. Randle has 33 receptions for 638 yards and seven touchdowns. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Randle is a mismatch for any corner in the SEC.

    More troubling for the Tide is that Randle is just hitting his stride. Over the last three games he has 14 receptions for 319 yards and four touchdowns.

    Advantage: LSU

No. 2: Darius Hanks Versus Odell Beckham Jr.

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    Darius Hanks is the second leading receiver for Alabama. He has 18 receptions for 230 yards and one touchdown. Hanks has more size than fellow wide receiver Marquis Maze. The 6-foot-1 Hanks missed the first two games of the season but has come on as of late.

    Over the last three games Hanks has hauled in 12 passes for 178 yards and his lone touchdown of the season.

    Few wide receivers have the ceiling that freshman wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has. The true freshman is on 5-11, but he plays much bigger. Despite only being six months removed from high school he is quickly becoming one of the SEC’s premier highlight films.

    Beckham continues to make one acrobatic reception after another and is a perfect No. 2 to Rueben Randle. On the season he has 27 receptions for 334 yards and two touchdowns.

    Beckham is clearly the better wide receiver with the most big play potential. However, Hanks has more experience.

    Advantage: LSU

Left Tackle: Barrett Jones Versus Chris Faulk

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    Barrett Jones and Chris Faulk are two of the SEC’s top left tackles. Jones is a junior who has already totaled 33 career starts. Last season he was a first team Academic All-American and a third team AP All-American.

    Jones came into the season a preseason All-American selection by several publications and he has done nothing to disappoint. He is a semifinalist for the Lombardi Award and is also one of the leading candidates for the Outland Trophy.

    For most players in college football, the gap between them and Barrett Jones would be greater. However, Faulk has proven to be a star in the making for LSU. Faulk is 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds and his opponents feel every single pound of him. He has already been named the SEC player of the week once this season and is destined for many more.

    In my opinion, the difference in Jones and Faulk is simply experience. However, in a game like this, experience matters.

    Advantage: Alabama

Left Guard: Chance Warmack Versus T-Bob Hebert

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    Chance Warmack has started 21 straight games for the Crimson Tide. The 6-foot-3 and 320 pound lineman has been one of the key components to the Alabama run game over the last two seasons.  He won the SEC’s most outstanding performance in Week 7 versus Ole Miss. Warmack did not allow any pressure or miss any assignments all day. He also had an impressive five pancake blocks in the game.

    Warmack has continued to improve as the season has progressed. As a result, he has become a driving force in Alabama’s success.

    T-Bob Hebert is the son of former New Orleans Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert. He might not be an All-Pro quarterback like his father, but he is building his own legacy as a dominant offensive linemen. The 6-foot-3 and 304 pound guard can play multiple positions.

    This season, he has lined up at both center and guard. This is a tremendous asset for the Tigers who have had injuries along the line but because of T-Bob’s versatility they have not missed a beat. It is that versatility that gives T-Bob the edge.

    Advantage: LSU

Center: William Vlachos Versus P.J. Lonergan

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    P.J. Lonergan is one of the top centers in the nation. He is also one of the strongest players in LSU history. He holds the school power cleaning record at 374 pounds. Lonergan is so strong that he has been recorded of squatting 506 pounds.

    Lonergan came into the 2011 season with high expectations after starting all 13 games in 2010. For the most part he has lived up to those expectations. However, he has been hampered by injuries this season and has not yet reached his full potential.

    While Lonergan is one of the nation’s best centers, William Vlachos might be the nation’s best, period. He is certainly one of the leading candidates for the Remington Trophy that is awarded to the nation’s top center.

    The 6-foot-1 295-pound center might not be the biggest center in the SEC, but he plays as hard and as physical as any center in the league. What makes him special, however, is not his strength, but his knowledge of the game. One of the reasons that AJ McCarron has had such a seamless transition is because he has Vlachos at center.

    Vlachos has 35 consecutive starts for the Tide and it shows. He is like a quarterback playing center with his ability to read defenses.



    Advantage: Alabama

Right Guard: Anthony Steen Versus Will Blackwell

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    Will Blackwell’s career has been filled with several ups and downs. He was originally recruited to play defensive line. However, soon after his arrival he was moved over to the offensive line. Last season he was named the starter prior to the start of the season. However, he broke his leg on the first play of scrimmage. The injury would require him to miss nine games, but he returned by the end of the season.

    Once he returned he was in dominant form. He was selected to ESPN’s All-SEC bowl team. It appears his fortunes have taken a turn for the better. He has been healthy this season and has played well.

    Alabama appears to have right guard Anthony Steen back for the LSU game. Steen had started the first seven games of the season before missing the Tennessee game because of a concussion. The 6-foot-3, 303 pound guard has the making of a dominant offensive lineman.

    However, he needs further development before he is on the level of Blackwell.

    Advantage: LSU

Right Tackle: DJ Fluker Versus Alex Hurst

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    DJ Fluker was rated as the No. 1 offensive tackle in the nation coming out of high school by Rivals.com. Now, in his sophomore season, he is starting to live up to the hype. Fluker has started all eight games this season has improved with each game. The massive 6-foot-6, 335-pound Fluker was voted to the preseason All-SEC team by the league’s coaches.

    I am not sure if I would place him on the All-SEC team this season, but he is clearly in the conversation.

    Alex Hurst has been nicknamed “Big Clyde” by his LSU teammates. One look at his massive 6-foot-6, 340-pound frame and you understand why. Hurst excels in the weight room and is a terror on the football field.

    Hurst was also named to the coaches All-SEC preseason team.  He has played well all season and his imposing frame is one of the key reasons that the Tigers have worn down teams in the second half. This position is a push.

    Advantage: PUSH

Tightend: Brad Smelley Versus Deangelo Peterson

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    Deangelo Peterson made waves this week when he stated that the Alabama linebackers were going to be too slow to cover him this weekend in pass coverage. These words might come back to haunt him.

    Peterson has a tremendous skill set at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds. He does have the potential to create mismatches in certain formations. However, there was no need to give the vaunted Tide defense any more motivation.

    For the season, Peterson has 12 receptions for 137 yards and one touchdown.

    Brad Smelley has accumulated 16 receptions for 165 yards and one touchdown. Much like Peterson he has a solid skill set for a player his size. Peterson is a greater deep threat, but Smelley is a viable option on any third down situation. Twelve of his 16 catches have been first down receptions.

    LSU gets the point, but only by the smallest margin.

    Advantage: LSU

    DJ Fluker was rated as the No. 1 offensive tackle in the nation coming out of high school by Rivals.com. Now, in his sophomore season, he is starting to live up to the hype. Fluker has started all eight games this season has improved with each game. The massive 6-foot-6, 335-pound Fluker was voted to the preseason All-SEC team by the league’s coaches.

    I am not sure if I would place him on the All-SEC team this season, but he is clearly in the conversation.

    Alex Hurst has been nicknamed “Big Clyde” by his LSU teammates. One look at his massive 6-foot-6, 340-pound frame and you understand why. Hurst excels in the weight room and is a terror on the football field.

    Hurst was also named to the coaches All-SEC preseason team.  He has played well all season and his imposing frame is a one of the key reasons that the Tigers have worn down teams in the second half. This position is a push.

Micheal Williams Versus J.C. Copeland

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    Because of the different formations that LSU and Alabama lineup in on offense, we are forced to compare these two players. For Alabama, Williams is a 6-foot-6, 270-pound tight end who specializes in blocking. However, because of his tall frame he is able to tower over anyone trying to cover him on the field.

    As a result, Williams has 10 receptions for 152 yards and two touchdowns.

    J.C. Copeland is a 6-foot-1, 280-pound former defensive lineman who has been converted to fullback. He has only had one carry so far this season, but he is one of the most crucial players on the offensive side of the football for the Tigers.

    He has surprisingly quick feet and speed for a player his size. His ability to take on bigger linebackers will be crucial this weekend. If he has a good game than it will be a long night for the Crimson Tide.

    Because of the different position I am going to call this one a push.

    Advantage: PUSH

Defensive Tackle: Josh Chapman Versus Michael Brockers

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    No position is of greater importance than the defensive tackle position inside the 3-4 defense. The tackle must be able to force double and triple teams. Their stats are never great, but their impact is second to none.

    So it is with Alabama defender Josh Chapman. Chapman at 6-foot-1 and 310 pounds does not have the size that former nose tackle Terrance Cody had. However, his strength is second to none. Chapman might be the strongest man in all of college football.

    Chapman has only registered 13 tackles and half a sack. However, he is likely to compete for All-American.

    LSU defensive tackle, Michael Brockers, is 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds. A force in the middle he has progressed mightily in his first season as a starter. Playing on perhaps the best defensive line in college football, he has accounted for 27 tackles, one sack, and six tackles for loss.

    As a sophomore he has a bright future for ahead, but he is not yet on the level of Chapman.

    Advantage: Alabama

Defensive End: Sam Montgomery Versus Jesse Williams

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    I have to give Jesse Williams his due props. First, he comes from Australia and becomes a football star on the JUCO level. Then, after he signs with Alabama to be the next Mt. Cody, he is moved to defensive end just prior to the start of the season.

    The 6-foot-4, 319-pound Williams has played admirably when you consider all of the facts. Not only does he have to learn how to play at an SEC pace, but he has changed positions. Yet, he has still been a force despite his modest numbers of 12 tackles and .5 a sack.

    Sam Montgomery has been nothing short of a star this season for LSU. The sensational sophomore has registered 27 tackles and four sacks. The 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds defensive end is likely to wreak havoc on the Alabama offensive line this week.

    In passing situations, the running backs will need to help out on Montgomery at all times. Even if they are going out for a pass they need to at least put a bump on Montgomery.

    Advantage: LSU

Defensive End: Barkevious Mingo Versus Damien Square

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    Barkevious Mingo is another sophomore stud for LSU on defense. Mingo has already totaled 20 tackles, four sacks, and six tackles for loss.

    This 6-foot-5, 240-pound defensive end wreaks havoc around the end. He is both physical and athletic and is a mismatch for most players in the SEC.

    Mingo could be the x-factor this week for the Tigers.

    Defensive end Damien Square is another Crimson Tide defensive player who is creating enough havoc for in the backfield that the linebackers are able to come and clean the play up. The Tide’s defensive line has improved greatly this season.

    Their individual stats will never display but it is showing in the teams statistics. Square only has made ten tackles this season, but he has been a valuable commodity—just not as valuable as Mingo.

    Advantage: LSU

MLB: Dont'a Hightower Versus Kevin Minter

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    Don’t’a Hightower is one of the most dominating defensive forces in the nation and a semifinalist for the Butkus Award and the Lombardi Award this season. He has put together an All-American type season so far with 48 tackles, 1.5 sacks, six tackles for loss, and six quarterback hurries.

    Kevin Minter has all the makings of a future NFL first round pick. The sophomore is 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds of pure rage. He has totaled 30 tackles so far this season and shows no sign of slowing down. Minter will need to have a big game this week against the Crimson Tide. He must stop Trent Richardson at the point of contact or it could be a long night for the Tigers.

    Minter has the potential to become the same type of force on defense that Hightower is in the future. However, in the present he is not yet there.

    Advantage: Alabama

Sam Line Backer: Jerrell Harris Versus Tahj Jones

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    Jerrell Harris has only started three games this season because of the formations that the opponents’ offenses have started in. Harris has 15 tackles on the season, including two for loss. Harris does not get the accolades that the other three linebackers receive, but he still plays a valuable part for this Tide defense.

    Tahj Jones has recorded 17 tackles and one sack so far this season. Just a sophomore he is not yet the player that he will one day be but he is still pretty good. Jones is slender at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, but has extraordinary athleticism.

    The Tigers will be counting on Jones to play like a veteran this weekend. Failure to do so could lead to doom for LSU.

    Advantage: PUSH

Linebacker: Courtney Upshaw Versus Ryan Baker

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    Courtney Upshaw is a 6-foot-2, 265-pound linebacker who leaves carnage wherever he goes. Upshaw is the top pass rusher of this Crimson Tide defense. He has registered 26 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

    Upshaw is a lock to be selected as an All-American this season. He is also a Butkus Award semifinalist and a one of the premier candidates for the Lombardi Award. Upshaw is difficult to block because he is too strong for slender blockers and too fast for larger blockers.

    Ryan Baker’s numbers are down this season, but he is still playing pretty good football. Baker finished last season with 85 tackles and six sacks. This season he currently has made 33 tackles and .5 sacks. Baker is crucial to this Tigers defense because of his age and experience.

    The bulk of LSU’s defense is sophomores. Baker is one of the few seniors and the younger players will look to him for leadership if the Tigers struggle early. Talent is important for great defenses like LSU, but they need strong leadership from the few upperclassmen they do have playing.

    Advantage: Alabama

DB: Morris Claiborne Versus Dre Kilpatrick

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    Dre Kilpatrick does not have great stats, but much of that is because the ball is not thrown his way much. As offenses look away from Kilpatrick, it's even more evident that he may be a great defensive back. Kilpatrick might be the most physical defensive back in the nation and seems headed to being a first round draft pick next season.

    Kilpatrick has 18 tackles this season but has been vulnerable to the big pass play early in the game.

    Morris Claiborne is not as physical as Kilpatrick but is the better lockdown corner. Claiborne has racked up 30 tackles and three interceptions. At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Claiborne has the size and speed to cover any type of wide receiver that he lines up with.

    This race is close, but I have to go with Claiborne.

    Advantage: LSU

DB: DeQuan Menzie Versus Tyrann Mathieu

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    Tyrann Mathieu is usually the shortest player on the field at 5-9 and 180 pounds. However, the highly regarded sophomore is also the most disruptive player on the field. Mathieu, in less than two full seasons, has already broken the school record for forced fumbles with nine.

    This season Mathieu has already forced five turnovers and registered 42 tackles. Prior to his suspension last week for a failed drug test, Mathieu was being considered as a Heisman candidate.

    DeQuan Menzie is one of the most complete defensive backs in the nation. He is very good in pass coverage and coming up to stop the run. He is also used to blitz off the corner to bring extra pressure on the quarterback.

    For the season, Menzie has 23 tackles, 1.5 sacks, eight passes broken up, and one interception.

    Menzie is very good, but the Honey Badger is even better.

    Advantage: LSU  

Safety: Mark Barron Versus Craig Loston

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    Craig Loston has the privilege of playing the best cornerback tandem in college football. As a result, he doesn’t have many opportunities to rack up stats. However, when he is called upon he makes the right play.

    For the season he has 12 tackles. The 6-foot-2 208-pound safety makes every hit count, however. He is very physical and a perfect complement to the LSU defensive backs.

    Mark Barron, on the other hand, is the best safety in the nation. Barron is likely to be named an All-American for his second consecutive season. On the season, Barron has 40 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and five pass break ups 

    There are not many one-on-one matchups that Loston would lose, but this is one of them.

    Advantage: Alabama

Safety: Robert Lester Versus Brandon Taylor

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    Robert Lester is trying to once again be named All-American and he is off to a good start. Lester has 22 tackles on the season with three pass breakups and a blocked field goal. Alabama is considered to have the best secondary in the nation by many experts and it is easy to see why.

    The 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior from Foley, Alabama is just beginning to tap into his potential. If he finishes this season strong he has a shot of being a three time All-American which is a rare achievement in college football.

    Brandon Taylor is having a fantastic season for LSU with 48 tackles and two interceptions. Perhaps the most important contribution that Taylor contributes is his leadership. The Tigers have a very young defense, but Taylor is a senior with plenty of experience.

    This one is closer than some might expect but Lester gets the nod.

    Advantage: Alabama

Nico Johnson Versus Bennie Logan

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    Because LSU and Alabama run different defensive schemes, there are two players who did not have similar positions. As a result, we will compare Nico Johnson and Bennie Logan.

    Johnson plays linebacker for the Crimson Tide and has come into his own. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound junior has recorded 22 tackles, one interception and one sack.

    Bennie Logan has been effective as well. The big defensive tackle has recorded 27 tackles and two sacks.

    Both will play an important part in Saturday’s game. As a result, this comparison is a push.

    Advantage: PUSH

Kicker: Jeremy Shelley Versus Drew Alleman

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    Neither field goal kicker is going to be a finalist for an All-American award this season. However, both have been effective for the most part. Jeremy Shelley has made 11-of-13 of his attempts. He has only attempted one kick over 40 yards and he missed it. Shelley has also missed one kick in the 30 yard range, but is four of five overall.

    Drew Allemen has not been called on for many kicks either. He is 10-for-12 on kicks this season and is three-for-three on kicks in between 40 and 49 yards. He missed his only attempt over 50 yards.

    While Shelley might be able to make longer field goals if called upon, Allemen already has.

    Advantage: LSU

Punter: Cody Mandell Versus Brad Wing

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    Of all the positions within this article, this one might be the most lopsided. Cody Mandell has struggled all season long and the Tide show no signs of improving in this area. Mandell has punted 27 times for a 39.0 yard-per-punt average.

    LSU, on the other hand, has a freshman named Brad Wing who has been one of the most consistent punters in the nation. Wing has punted the ball 31 times for an average of 44.4 yards per punt.

    If LSU can turn this game into a field position battle, Wing could be the difference.


    Advantage: LSU

Final Take

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    In the final count, LSU won 12 positions, lost eight positions, and had a draw on four positions with Alabama. While this comparison does tell a story, it does not tell the whole story. Each position was awarded one point for being stronger. However, one point does not represent the distance between the two players and positions.

    For example, if we were to compare quarterbacks Aaron Rogers and Ryan Leaf, Rogers would receive one point. However, would that one point express adequately the distance between the two quarterbacks? The logical answer is no.

    When I look at these two teams they are pretty evenly matched. The difference, in my opinion, is the long distance threat of Randal and the LSU special teams.

    However, my gut tells me Alabama is going to win this game. When in doubt, go with your mind over your gut.

    Final Prediction: LSU Tigers 23 Alabama 20