Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.
DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 3, or .6 yards less than Alabama outgains their opponents on an average play; the difference between their 6.8 yards gained per-play and 3.2 allowed is the widest in the nation. LSU's per-play margin checks in at an impressive +1.6 (5.6 offensive, 4.0 defensive), and it's worth noting that that number has come against a tougher schedule than Alabama's ... though that 2.0-yard gap between the teams is still, statistically speaking, an enormous one (and explains why the Tide have been established as the Vegas favorite). 3 is also the number worn by Tide freshman DB/LB Vinnie Sunseri, and that Richardson kid everyone's always going on about.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: We know about the stars on both teams. But of course not every player who'll make an impact on the game will be a star. Who are some of the under-the-radar players that could/should shine Saturday?
Before we answer that, let's note that when we say there are stars on both teams, we mean it. Take a look over this excellent breakdown of the two teams' NFL draft prospects by CBSSports.com draft analyst Rob Rang, and it's obvious that -- despite a light crop of NFL prospects in the Tigers' senior class -- what's "crystal clear as the BCS trophy is that Alabama and LSU are loaded," as Rang writes.
(Maybe the most interesting nugget from Rang's piece? That LSU's Morris Claiborne is "arguably the elite cover corner in the SEC." Wonder what Dre Kirkpatrick, Casey Hayward and even LSU teammate Tyrann Mathieu would say about that.)
But as much fun as it is to discuss the Trent Richardsons and Rueben Randles of the world, we know there's always 22 players on the field and better than 80 on each roster. Saturday's game won't be decided by the draftable athletes alone. So here's three players from each team whose impact could outshine their press clippings:
Anthony Steen, RG. Steen took some heat from Tide fans after struggling mightily with Nick Fairley during his team's collapse from 24-0 ahead in the 2010 Iron Bowl, but the sophomore has rebounded nicely to help the Alabama running game reestablish itself as one of the best in the nation. If Steen can show exactly how much he's improved by handling LSU's powerful tackle tandem of Michael Brockers and Anthony Johnson, the Tide will have taken a big step towards keeping that run game going.
Jesse Williams, DT. The Australian native and former JUCO standout (pictured at left) took a bit to find his feet in Tuscaloosa, but has come on in recent weeks and played a major part in stuffing Arkansas with five tackles overall and two for loss. If he shows similar big-game flair Saturday, LSU will have a tough time moving the ball on the ground.
DeQuan Menzie, CB. The de facto fifth Beatle of the Tide secondary, Menzie will no doubt have just as much to do as his more celebrated teammates, whether it's helping on Randle, gang-tackling Spencer Ware or Michael Ford, or tracking the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. The way Jarrett Lee has been playing, if Menzie plays like a weak link in the Tide defensive backfield, the Tigers will take advantage.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR. Speaking of the true freshman Beckham, Randle can't be the only legitimate threat in the Tiger receiving corps or Barron and Co. will squeeze him out of the game. Beckham (right) and tight end DeAngelo Peterson must make their presence felt.
Will Blackwell, RG. Moving the Tide's front seven out of the holes needed for the LSU running game won't be easy, but if any of the LSU linemen are up to it, it's got to be the agile 6'4", 303-pound senior. It's going to take both power and guile to maintain any running consistency vs. the Tide front, and we like Blackwell's combination of those qualities as much as anyone's on the LSU front.
Kevin Minter, LB. We mentioned two days ago that the LSU linebacking corps hasn't been quite as special as most of the other units on the team, but that doesn't mean this fast-rising sophomore and fellow 'backer Ryan Baker don't have the potential to rise up and play over their heads. They may have to to keep Richardson in check.
THE LATEST HERE AT CBSSPORTS.COM: In addition to Rang's draft breakdown, there's a metric ton of cool LSU-Alabama content here at CBSSports.com. Dennis Dodd has taken a look at the LSU defense under John Chavis and Bruce Feldman the Tide's linebacker-driven D. Bryan Fischer has profiled LSU's budding 2012 recruiting class with Alabama due the get the same treatment at Eye on Recruiting later Wednesday. The Free Bruce Podcast Wednesday with Feldman previewed the game with special guest Paul Finebaum. And here's CBS Sports Network's Jason Horowitz and Spencer Tillman offering their takes on the game:
Tide fans, though, will want to make sure they read Tony Barnhart's Q&A with Nick Saban, as well as watching the video of the interview below:
THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: We've got some bad news for LSU: Dont'a Hightower says that the Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd has already shown itself capable of hampering opposing offenses ... and maybe even the Tide's own?
"They did an excellent job at Tennessee," Hightower said. "Even when our offense was on the field, they were so loud I couldn’t really hear or know what Coach (Kirby) Smart was saying." That's quite the accomplishment, and considering that the crowd should be much livelier for a game it knows could propel their Tide into the BCS national championship ... well, let's just say we're hoping LSU has practiced their silent counts.
Is Richardson not the only Heisman candidate on the Tide roster? Center William Vlachos revealed Tuesday that he, too, has received a Heisman vote ... from Heisman winner and former Tide star Mark Ingram. "Seriously," Vlachos said. "Seriously." We believe you, William.
Also: Saban compares telling his players to ignore the hype to setting down ground rules for a son or daughter's date ... Williams talks about his tradition of painting his face for games ... Duron Carter is playing the part of Jordan Jefferson in practice ... Richardson says Mathieu is a "tremendous player."
THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: Apparently it's not just the Tigers' Australian punter Brad Wing who could use a crash course in the history of their opponent this week; end Sam Montgomery admitted Tuesday he thought of Bear Bryant as a Tide player and said "I don't know anything" about the Alabama legend. We might chalk this up as some kind of odd smack talk if Montgomery didn't also admit to not recognizing Steve Spurrier when the Ol' Ball Coach paid Montgomery's high school a recruiting visit.
We already gave you Saban, so here's Les Miles talking to Tim Brando about the game:
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and Alabama governor Robert Bentley have made the politicians' traditional food-based bet on the game, with Bentley offering a Tuscaloosa sandwich shop's "13 National Championships BLT" (with 13 strips of bacon) vs. Jindal's Louisiana seafood dinner. Frankly, as much as we like bacon, we think Bentley's coming out a bit ahead here. But Jindal sonds by far the more confident of the two.
“He (Bentley) is a nice man and a good friend,“ Jindal said. “But we expect to beat them and treat them badly. We will not be gracious guests.“ Oh snap!
Also: Miles suggests his team ignore their social media for a week, saying "we needed no Twitter personalities in this game" ... Mathieu, speaking publicly for the first time since his suspension for the Auburn game, says he "let a lot of people down ... Miles said that Jefferson will "play a key role" and be "oiled up and ready."