The Showdown of the Century. Armageddon in Alabama. A De Facto National Championship Game. The Game of the Year. A Heavyweight Fight.
Yes, folks, we’re here on the eve of the game we’ve all been not so patiently waiting for: Louisiana State University traveling to take on the University of Alabama. The Bayou Bengals versus the Tide. A game where we are going to see the nation’s top two teams square off in primetime.
All of the talk around this game has centered around the defenses that will be taking the field with the goal of imposing their will on the opposition. We’ve heard about Trent Richardson and what a monster he is on the field and in the weight room. How the big Alabama bruiser will work with his offensive line to try to grind the LSU defense into a fine powder by the fourth quarter.
We’ve heard about Tyrann “The Honey Badger” Mathieu, LSU’s 10-man defensive line rotation and the four-headed monster that the Tigers have in the backfield. All of the major players like Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Mo Claiborne and Sam Montgomery have been brought up as guys who will be able to impact the game.
Shoot, there’s even been talk of the impact Marquis Maze, Russell Shepard and some of the other skill players can have on the game.
But the quarterback position has been a rarely and barely addressed topic. A lot of “both of these defenses are so good they just need decent QB play” and “as long as so-and-so doesn’t turn the ball over team, X can win” type talk has colored the quarterback discussion. People picking Alabama believe A.J. McCarron just has to be a shepherd for the Tide to get the win. Folks riding with the Bayou Bengals are just worried that Jarrett “Pick-Six” Lee might show up.
The more I look at this game and how evenly matched these teams appear, the more it comes back to quarterback play, both good and bad. The more it seems there actually is a team with a definitive edge.
Yes, the defenses are great. Yes, both teams have capable playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Yes, both head coaches have a knack for preparing for and winning the big game.
However, only one team has a quarterback that I trust to get the job done.
Correction – quarterbacks that I trust.
I’ve been impressed with A.J. McCarron of Alabama this sesaon. After the first outing against Kent State, he’s equipped himself well and been able to really guide this Alabama team from an offensive standpoint. His numbers for the season – 134 of 200 attempts and a 10:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio are sound. He is doing everything that has been asked of him. The kid is just a sophomore and he’s played in the spots that the Tide called on prior to getting the reins this season.
The problem isn’t that McCarron can’t win this ball game, it is that he’s given us no reason to believe that he can. He’s appeared in twenty games for the Tide but only eight of those games, the entire 2011 season, were of any substince. Put another way, of hist 164 career completions 134 have come this year.
Most importantly though? He’s never played against LSU. Yes, Greg McElroy in Tuscaloosa in 2009 got a 24-15 win against the Bayou Bengals. That LSU team that lost to Ole Miss and Penn State, going 2-2 in their final four games is not this LSU team. This is the team full of guys that cut thier teeth beating the fifth ranked Tide a season ago. This is the team who has the best defense John Chavis has ever coached, according to the long time SEC veteran.
This is a team that Kent State, Penn State, North Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Vandy, Ole Miss and Tennessee could never prepare McCarron to play against. He’ll be baptized in the fire on Saturday and perhaps the young man survives and plays well but to do that he’ll have to survive flames in the form of shifting coverages, multiple defensive fronts, disguised coverages and an aggressive penetrating defensive line.
If he does, he’ll be set up to lead the Tide to a national title.
On the other side though, the side that I’ve decided to pick to triumph this weekend, you’ve got two quarterbacks with 73 game appearances worth of experience spanning four seasons. Guys who were there when LSU pushed the 2008 undefeated regular season Tide to overtime in Red Stick. Guys who remember the controversial Patrick Peterson interception that ultimately doomed them in 2009. Guys who handed Alabama their second loss in 2010 working as a tandem.
Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee have played a lot of football. Hell between the two there are three games of Alabama experience. You could call it five games of experience as Lee’s participated in three games against the Tide and Jefferson has played in two of those same games.
While everyone else bickers over the whimsical nature of Les Miles and which style of defense is going to be more effective I’m going right to the guys most ready to win this big game; Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson.
Do I think they’re head and shoulders better than AJ McCarron? No, not particularly. Jordan Jefferson does bring an added element to the game in the way of his legs but overall I think these quarterbacks are all about the same. Decent, good but not great. The difference in them is the LSU quarterbacks’ experience and more importantly their ability to have their coach and their teammates know that they’ve been there before and they can get this team to where they want to go.
At some point during this game the quarterback position is going to have to convert a 3rd and 8 against one of these defenses. A quarterback is going to have to lead a big boy drive down the field from enemy territory. A quarterback is going to get confused by a pre-snap read and have to adjust on the fly to avoid a sack and an interception. A quarterback is going to have to get the ball into his playmakers’ hands just one more time.
I trust LSU’s quarterbacks to do that a bit more than I do a guy that I’ve never seen do it before.