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November 1, 2007

UA-LSU: How they match up




John Parker Wilson has hit his season stride with impressive back-to-back performances against Ole Miss and Tennessee. Those wins came against two of the SEC's worst defenses, however, and LSU's is the league's best. For the year, Wilson is 173-for-299 (58%) with 11 TDs and 5 INTs. If Wilson posts a strong effort against the Tigers, there is no reason to think he won't play well the rest of the season.


Matt Flynn has been impressive in his first year as a starter, completing 56% of his passes for 8 TDs and 5 INTs. He is also underappreciated as a runner. In fact, if not for lost yardage in sacks, Flynn would rank third on the team in rushing with 247 yards gained. The absence of Ryan Perrilloux may limit the playbook for LSU somewhat, but won't necessarily translate to a drop in effectiveness at the position.


For the moment, it appears the makeshift line UA employed against Tennessee without suspended starters Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis - will be in action once again Saturday. That line performed in impressive fashion, however, with B.J. Stabler getting his first start this season at right guard. Evan Cardwell has been a pleasant surprise at center since taking over the spot against Houston. It will be imperative for Alabama that this group stay healthy and play well against a stout LSU front.


The most impressive thing that can be said for LSU's offensive line is in the balance the offense achieves as a whole. The Tigers are averaging over 200 yards per game rushing and over 200 passing. Know how many other teams in the Southeastern Conference can make that claim? Zero. The group is led by Ciron Black. Like Alabama's Andre Smith, Black is a gifted left tackle who is only a sophomore. Given the mobility of LSU's quarterbacks, the allowance of 2.5 sacks per game seems a bit high.


Terry Grant will carry the bulk of the rushing attempts for Alabama while Glen Coffee is likely to serve game two of a suspension. Grant went over 100 yards against Tennessee for the first time since the Vanderbilt game. Roy Upchurch has taken on a relief role that has evolved into about one series per half, but as long as Coffee is sidelined, that role could grow at any time. If a third back enters the game for Alabama, which didn't happen against Tennessee, it might be Jonathan Lowe, who worked more with the backs in practice this week.


Keiland Williams and Jacob Hester give the Tigers a 1-2 punch in the backfield that keeps the chains moving with a north-south style. Hester gets the bulk of the carries, though Williams is more of a big-play threat. Trindon Holliday is a blazing-fast change-up who will be the smallest player on the field, but one of the most dangerous. Holliday averages 4-5 carries per game and 6.5 yards per carry.


Alabama's DJ Hall has made 24 catches over his last two games for 325 yards, making child's play of two SEC secondaries in the process. His hot hand carries a unit that has been among the most consistent on UA's team this season. Matt Caddell has been a reliable if not explosive No.2 option, and made several key plays against Tennessee two weeks ago. Tight ends Nick Walker and Travis McCall continue to catch the ball on a consistent but limited basis.


Brandon LaFell leads the Tigers in catches (30) and yards (412). Early Doucet, who was supposed to man the top receiving role on the team, has missed half the year with an injury. He has returned, however, and with 22 catches in four games, Doucet's speedy presence alone makes a No.2 option out of LaFell. Tight end Richard Dickson averages two catches a game.


The trio of Wallace Gilberry, Lorenzo Washington and Brandon Deaderick have gotten most of the snaps ever since Bobby Greenwood was hobbled by an ankle sprain a month ago. Deaderick provides a bit more pocket pressure than Greenwood, which could come in handy against LSU. Gilberry is the team's runaway leader in TFLs with 12. LSU's preference to run between the tackles will put a premium on Washington's performance on the nose.


It seems clear that All-American Glenn Dorsey will play against Alabama, but not nearly as clear whether he will be effective after a chopblock from Auburn cut his last game short. The Tigers are big and fast elsewhere on the line with Tyson Jackson and Kirston Pittman manning the end spots. Marlon Favorite plays inside with Dorsey, and sophomore Al Woods has been impressive (two sacks, three fumble recoveries) in a backup tackle role. If Dorsey can't finish, Woods isn't a bad fallback.


Alabama's linebackers have struggled most against offenses with good balance this season, and LSU brings the SEC's most balanced offense to Bryant-Denny Stadium. Of concern this week is the health of strongside OLB Ezekial Knight, who suffered an ankle sprain against Tennessee and is expected to play at less than 100 percent against the Tigers. Freshman Chavis Williams is Knight's backup. Inside linebackers Darren Mustin and Prince Hall will have their hands full with a solid Tigers running game that is more thunder than lightning.

LSU's linebacking corps is led by Ali Highsmith and Darry Beckwith. Much like Tennessee's duo of Rico McCoy and Jerod Mayo, this LSU pair makes most all of the plays for the unit. Unlike Tennessee, however, Highsmith and Beckwith don't have to carry the entire defense. The pair has combined for 99 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, three sacks and seven pass break-ups on the year. Both are instinctive and rely heavily on speed, beating blocks to the point of attack.


Look for Alabama freshman Kareem Jackson to get plenty of action on LSU standout receiver Early Doucet, particularly when Alabama goes to its nickel package. Jackson comes off his best game of the season with two interceptions against Tennessee. The Crimson Tide's secondary had a rough stretch in October, and senior Simeon Castille will need to be on his game Saturday to help keep LSU's passing game in check. Solid run support from Rashad Johnson will also be a must.


Cornerback Chevis Jackson leads the Tigers here with eight pass breakups, while safety Craig Steltz leads the team in tackles (59), interceptions (4) and forced fumbles (2). Whether LSU opts for man or zone coverage in the secondary will be a key decision for Les Miles' staff. By far, Alabama has thrown more effectively against man, but Miles knows he has the athletes to challenge.


Alabama's special teams play has been better than expected this season on the whole. Return specialist Javier Arenas has proven to be nothing short of explosive and is the SEC's No.1 punt returner (16.5 yards). K Leigh Tiffin has rebounded nicely from a slow start in the field goal department (he's now made 11 of his last 14). Coverage units have been solid. Punter P.J. Fitzgerald averages just 39 yards but has been better of late.

Special Teams

Punter Patrick Fisher has a true cannon of a leg with a 44-yard average and a whopping 13 punts going for 50-plus yards. Kicker Colt David has connected on 74% of his FG tries, but is 0 for 3 from distances of 40 and beyond. Holliday is dangerous on kickoff returns with an average of 26 yards per try, but hasn't been as effective returning punts. LSU is fourth in the SEC in net kickoff coverage.


Prediction: LSU 31, Alabama 20

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