By Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
ORLANDO, Fla. – In recent history, no college football rivalry has been more intense than that of Alabama and LSU.
When No. 1 Alabama welcomes No. 13 LSU to Tuscaloosa this Saturday night, it will mark the fourth consecutive time that one of the two squads is ranked first in the nation at the time of their clash and the fifth time out of the last seven overall. It will be the eighth straight time that both teams are ranked and, factoring in LSU’s No. 10 ranking in the AP poll, it will be the sixth consecutive time that both teams are ranked in the top 10 in some capacity.
The rivalry has dominated the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division, with the winner advancing to the SEC Championship Game six times in the last eight years. The two teams have been about as evenly matched as possible, with only 12 total points separating the two across the last nine meetings (Alabama 191, LSU 179).
LSU coach Les Miles summed up the magnitude of the rivalry on Monday at his weekly press conference.
“Any time you line up against Alabama, there's a rivalry,” Miles said. “There's national prestige. And the want to make plays against a very quality opponent is there. I think the greatest compliment that we can pay an opponent is our best efforts, and certainly Alabama will get that.”
The 2013 edition of the showdown will feature two of the premier signal-callers in the conference in Alabama’s AJ McCarron and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger. Both quarterbacks rank among the SEC’s top three in passer rating, and each leading a prolific offensive unit.
Alabama, which has been flat out dominant on defense, will test its mettle against two of the country’s best receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The duo has accounted for 75 percent of LSU’s receiving yards while averaging 17.8 yards per catch and hauling in 16 touchdowns.
Beckham Jr. leads the conference and ranks second nationally in total offense (averaging 21 yards per touch in 2013). Landry has been a savior in big situations for the Tigers, with 342 of his 882 receiving yards coming on third down. And if those two weren’t impressive enough, the Tigers also boast the league’s second-leading rusher in Jeremy Hill.
Their ability to run the ball and have balance on offense with two outstanding receivers who are both ranked as top guys in our league,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. “This is by far to me the most explosive and most talented offensive team that we have faced all year long.”
While the Alabama defense has led the way by allowing a stingy 9.8 points per game, the offense has been stellar itself with a 41.3-point per game average. McCarron has spread the ball around effectively to his primary receivers Kevin Norwood, DeAndre White, Amari Cooper and Christion Jones, while T.J. Yeldon has been steady on the ground with 6.4 yards per carry and 10 scores.
Despite the impressive numbers put up by both offenses, this game may very well come down to the battle in the trenches, as it so often has in the past.
“You defensive front must, you know, take the line of scrimmage. Your offensive front must take the line of scrimmage,” Miles said. “These games many times are won in the trenches.”
The battle is set for 8 p.m. Eastern on CBS.
Saturday’s showdown between the top-ranked Tide and No. 13 LSU will be the 78th all-time meeting between the two schools…The Crimson Tide currently leads the series by a 47-25-5 count…LSU and Alabama have met every year since 1964, and the first meeting took place in 1895…Although Alabama owns the overall series lead, LSU has won six of the last 10 meetings and nine of the last 15 overall…Since 1996, the home team in the series has won just six times in 17 tries…This will be the sixth straight meeting in which both teams are ranked in the top 10 (LSU in No. 13 in the BCS standings but checks in at No. 10 in the Associated Press Poll)…Neither team has won by more than four points in the last three regular season meetings between the two schools.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2012 – Alabama 21, LSU 17 (Baton Rouge, La.)
2011 – Alabama 21, LSU 0 (New Orleans, La. – BCS National Championship)
2011 – LSU 9, Alabama 6 (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
2010 – LSU 24, Alabama 21 (Baton Rouge, La.)
2009 – Alabama 24, LSU 15 (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
A LOOK AT THE LAST MEETING
With No. 1 Alabama trailing 17-14 in Death Valley in the last minute of the fourth quarter, quarterback AJ McCarron hit running back T.J. Yeldon on a screen pass that resulted in a 28-yard touchdown to boost the Tide past the Tigers, 21-17. The score came with just 51 seconds remaining on the clock, and sent the LSU faithful home in a state of shock while keeping Alabama’s national championship hopes alive. McCarron finished the night with 165 yards through the air, with his only touchdown toss coming on that fateful play to Yeldon in the closing seconds. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger played a solid game for the Tigers, finishing with 298 yards and a score through the air. Mettenberger and the Tigers managed to rack up 435 yards and 17 points against the dominant Alabama defense, but it turned out to be just short in the end.
PLAYMAKERS – OFFENSE
Alabama – AJ McCarron, Senior, Quarterback
Saturday night’s battle between Alabama and LSU will feature two of the league’s best quarterbacks. McCarron ranks third in the SEC in passer rating (166.61), trailing only Johnny Manziel and Mettenberger in that category. Although he doesn’t sit atop the SEC in quarterback rating, he does sit atop the conference in all-time win percentage for a quarterback (.943) thanks to his 33-2 record as a starter. Much attention is given to Alabama’s perennially stout defense, but McCarron has guided the Bama offense masterfully during its two-year reign atop college football. He’s continued to do that in 2013, completing nearly 70 percent of his throws with an 8.9-yard per attempt average while registering 16 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. The LSU defense comes to town this weekend ranked No. 3 in the conference in pass defense, so McCarron and the Tide offense will be challenged. As his sterling record indicates, though, McCarron will surely be ready for that challenge under the lights at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
LSU – Zach Mettenberger, Senior, Quarterback
Mettenberger has arguably been one of college football’s most improved players in 2013. The signal-caller is currently second in the SEC in passer rating (177.01) and leads the league in yards per attempt (10.8). The only player that Mettenberger trails in touchdown passes and passer rating happens to be the reigning Heisman Trophy winner (Manziel), which illustrates just how good the senior has been at the helm of Cam Cameron’s offense this year. Mettenberger will face a dominant defense from Alabama this week, and he will be looking to replicate the success he had against a similarly dominant unit a season ago. His 296 passing yards in last year’s narrow defeat were the most the Tide surrendered in a single game all year, and LSU’s 435 yards of offense was also the most total yardage gained against the eventual national champions from Tuscaloosa. While Alabama has been stellar on defense once again in 2013, it will have its hands full with Mettenberger and his elite duo of receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who have combined for 1,891 yards and 16 touchdowns through the air this season.
PLAYMAKERS – DEFENSE
Alabama – C.J. Mosley, Senior, Linebacker
While the offenses in this game feature prominent quarterbacks, the defenses are both led by outstanding linebackers. Mosley has been superb for Alabama, registering 59 tackles to lead the Crimson Tide in that department while also recording 5.5 tackles for loss and three pass breakups. With Mosley leading the way, Alabama enters this weekend ranked first in the SEC in all four major defensive categories. With an elite running back, receivers and quarterback, the LSU offense will pose the toughest challenge for the Bama ‘D’ since it faced Texas A&M in College Station back on Sept. 14. Mosley is an extremely athletic ’backer with the ability to make plays from sideline to sideline, and the Tide will need his combination of athleticism and instincts to be on full display Saturday night against an LSU attack that ranks as one of the nation’s best, especially in the passing game.
LSU – Lamin Barrow, Senior, Linebacker
Barrow, like Mosley, is an exceptional athlete at the linebacker position and leads his team in stops in 2013 with 64. Also like Mosley, Barrow finds himself as a semi-finalist for the 2013 Butkus Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top linebacker. Barrow and the LSU defense will face a prolific offense in Tuscaloosa, as the Tide has produced over 41 points per game so far this season. AJ McCarron is one of the most successful quarterbacks in NCAA history in terms of winning percentage and championships, and running back T.J. Yeldon is one of the SEC’s best ball-carriers. While Alabama boasts a prolific unit, the Tigers are currently third in the league in total defense and will have something to say come Saturday night. Expect to hear Barrow’s name throughout the evening, as has been the case all season with LSU.
• Saturday night’s game will mark the third straight regular season meeting between Alabama and LSU that is televised in CBS’ lone primetime slot of the season.
• Since 2007, the Tigers have made more appearances in primetime on CBS than any other SEC squad.
• Since 2005, just 12 points separate these two teams, with Alabama holding a slight 191-179 advantage over the last nine meetings.
• The team leading at halftime has only managed to win four of the last 11 meetings in this series.
• LSU is 2-10-1 all-time against teams ranked No. 1, including 0-3 against Alabama.
• Nick Saban, who coached at LSU from 2000 through 2004, is 4-4 in his career against the Bayou Bengals.