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November 5, 2010

Jones vs. Peterson a marquee matchup

TUSCALOOSA _ In boxing, when a high-profile match is about to start, the bell is usually struck three times to gain everyone's attention.

If so, they might need something the size of the Liberty Bell on Saturday at Tiger Stadium, at least if the hype is to be believed.

Although it probably won't determine the outcome when the University of Alabama squares off again against division rival and Nick Saban's former team LSU, Julio Jones vs. Patrick Peterson is being promoted by just about everyone as a main event-type matchup.

Both were highly prized prospects, both are likely future first-round draft picks and they could be going to head-to-head on nearly every down when the Crimson Tide has the ball.

"Julio versus Peterson, round three," the cornerback recently told reporters in Baton Rouge.

One can't help be drawn to the matchup just by how the coaches talk about their players.

LSU's Les Miles: "Yeah I think he's gotten better and he plays best in bigger games. I think it's wise, in my opinion, that they don't, when given choice, challenge him although I feel comfortable with the other corner, Mo Claiborne and certainly Tyrann Mathieu. I think he's improved. I still think he's the best corner in college football."

Saban: "Julio's probably as good a leader, as good a person, a hard worker and he has all the sort of character and attitude that you look for in a guy who's going to be a good player. He has a tremendous amount of ability to go with it, but this is a guy who is the hardest worker on our team, probably the team means more to him than it does just about anybody. He practices well every day, works hard, wants to be the best, has a burning desire to do it, and is the same kind of person off the field."

To say that Jones won round one and Peterson round two would be an oversimplification, but regardless Alabama won both games:

2008: Until the recent Tennessee trip his game at Baton Rouge was considered Jones' best, with seven receptions for 128 yards, many after contact. Alabama's next-best receiver that day was Glen Coffee with two catches for 19 yards. The true freshman had the key offensive play in overtime when he caught a 24-yard sideline pass with Peterson fortunate to get him out of bounds at the 1. Quarterback John Parker Wilson subsequently punched in the touchdown as Alabama clinched the division title.

2009: After taking to a helmet to the knee against Florida International, things still weren't quite clicking for Jones when the Tigers visited Bryant-Denny Stadium. His season high for yards was 65 against Arkansas, although he made seven receptions for 54 yards against Tennessee. Heading into the fourth quarter Jones had just two catches for 19 yards, but should have had a touchdown when McElroy missed him in the end zone, when he turned a screen pass into a 73-yard touchdown that gave Alabama the lead with 10:24 remaining.

However, Peterson wasn't on the field during the touchdown. For the third time that day he was on the sideline fighting off cramps. Sophomore safety Brandon Taylor, a converted cornerback, played way off Jones at the line and the nearest linebacker turned to the interior to follow freshman tight end Michael Williams in motion. Although linemen James Carpenter, William Vlachos and Barrett Jones all got into position to make blocks, the receiver only needed to fake out Taylor to break into open field for the longest play of his career.

"I noticed early on in the game that he kept cramping up," Jones said of Peterson, who has had that problem throughout his career. "I didn't know he was out, though.

"It wasn't that I did anything amazing, anybody probably could have did it."

McElroy didn't notice Peterson's absence either, he simply read the coverage. Strangely enough, it's the wide receiver's only 100-yard performance at Bryant-Denny.

Later in the game when Alabama had the ball inside LSU territory and was trying to put the game away, Peterson nearly got even when McElroy tried to force a sideline pass to Jones. Although the cornerback probably made the interception, the initial rule on the field was incomplete and even with some grass torn up the replay official couldn't determine if he had possession while his dragging foot was still down.

LSU fans can wonder what might have been, but it should be noted that the anemic offense had gone three-and-out on the previous two possessions and accumulated just nine total yards in the fourth quarter.

"He's a special player," McElroy said about Peterson. "The thing that makes him better than probably any corner in the nation is the fact that's he's so big, he's so powerful. I think he's 6-1, 220, give or take. That he's that big at the corner position with having the speed that he does creates a lot of matchup issues."

So does the fact that LSU can put him one-on-one with nearly anyone without safety help and not have to worry about that receiver, while the rest of the defense can concentrate on stopping the run and limiting the other players.

"It gives you so much more versatility," McElroy continued. "A lot of people talk about (New York Jets cornerback) Derrelle Revis, and Revis Island, things like that, and it's pretty much the same.

"You have to account for him every play."

But that doesn't mean Alabama is necessarily going to shy away from him either. Despite recent surgery to fix a fracture in his left hand Jones is coming off his career performance at Tennessee, of 221 yards on 12 receptions. He caught passes nearly every way imaginable, including diving sideline grabs with just his toes in-bounds, slants and, of course, the deep ball in single coverage with plays of 47, 42 and 38 yards.

Also, overlooked from last year were the performances of Jones' teammates. McElroy completed 19 of 35 passes for 276 yards (the third most of his career) and two touchdowns, Marquis Maze had six receptions for 88 yards and running back Mark Ingram had 144 rushing yards on 22 carries.

"I think that matchup is going to be a very interesting matchup," Miles said. "I also like the idea that Morris Claiborne and some other guys may step in there and get some of those snaps. I'm not saying that we will shadow Julio Jones on the day. I think it will be a mix and match. Hopefully at the right times we'll have Patrick Peterson on him, and at other times I don't feel that bad at having some other guys on him, and I think Julio Jones is a very talented receiver. I just think we are pretty good at corner."

Nevertheless, Jones is expecting to see No. 7 on each and every snap.

"If it's round three, it's round three," Jones said. "This is just another opportunity to get better. I like a challenge and I'm not going to veer away from a challenge. He's great competitor and I am too, so it's going to be good."


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