Prospect Preview: Alabama v. LSU

On Saturday the National Championship game will take place. We don’t care what anybody says about the game not technically being for two more months. This game will not only completely alter the national college football landscape it will also have a massive effect on the NFL Draft in April. There are 26 prospects that you need to know about and we have them for you.

RB Trent Richardson-5’11, 220 lbs.*
What else is there left to say about Trent Richardson? You have a guy who can do it all, he has the power to run you over, the hips to make you miss, and the speed to leave you behind. Richardson is a threat both running the ball and catching it. In fact it wouldn’t surprise us one bit to find out that Richardson can throw the ball as well.

In the end the question for LSU is how do you stop one of the most dangerous players in the nation? The answer may just be that you can’t.
2011 Stats: 149 carries, 989 yards, 17 TD

WR Marquis Maze-5’10, 182 lbs.
In a world of Justin Blackmon, Alshon Jeffrey, and Michael Floyd it’s easy to overlook a prospect like Maze and ignore his contributions. However all Maze does is catch the football. Let’s not forget that he is this team’s leading WR and has been the most consistent target for young QB AJ McCarron. Maze is an underrated athlete who know how to work against both zone and man coverage.

He is elusive with his cuts and while he isn’t going to blow you away with his 40 time he will be sure to lull you sleep before hitting a big play. Look for Bama to try and hit Maze at least once when LSU goes zone and they can get him past Clairborne or the Honey Badger.
2011 Stats: 39 receptions, 482 yards, 1 TD

WR Darius Hanks-6’1, 184 lbs.
From the time you start playing pee-wee ball the one thing every coach wants to see out of their player is consistency. Ideally they prefer that consistency to be in doing the right things like running steady routes, having your timing down and showing off good hands. These are all areas that Hanks excels at.

It’s taken a little while for he and McCarron to get on the same page but now that they are their offense has taken that next step. The issue here is that Hanks will struggle to beat either LSU CB one on one and Bama will have to get creative if they hope to find ways to utilize him.
2011 Stats: 18 receptions, 230 yards, 1 TD

TE Brad Smelley-6’3, 237 lbs.
We can tell you one thing about this game for sure you may not hear his name a whole lot but Brad Smelley will be out there a whole lot. He’s quite an accomplished blocker who excels at sealing off the edge on Richardson’s off tackle runs or at getting to the second level and picking up a LB. Smelley isn’t quite the athlete you see many SEC schools have a TE but he catches the ball well and can expose defenses that ignore him.

The lack of attention he draws could make him a very dangerous red-zone weapon. LSU’s DB’s will need to be sure to watch Smelley attempts at a chip and peal play. Where he will chip the DE or OLB and then peel off and slip into the open area for a hopefully easy TD.
2011 Stats: 16 receptions, 165 yards, 1 TD

TE Michael Williams-6’6, 270 lbs.*
Williams may be a big man playing TE but it doesn’t play like it. Williams is rather graceful for a TE who outweighs most DE’s. Alabama will use a two TE front while it pounds Richardson and you need to watch for Williams and Smelley to unbalance the line and outflank the LSU defense.

We actually think Williams is the more natural receiver of the duo and he has sneaky athleticism. He is most effective off the play-action pass when the LB gets sucked up into the play. With such a huge frame McCarron can put the ball almost anywhere.
2011 Stats: 10 receptions, 152 yards, 2 TD

OT Barrett Jones-6’5, 301 lbs.*
Trying to get past the left side of Alabama’s offensive line is like trying to climb to the summit of Mount Everest. Very few are actually able to do it and when they do they have almost nothing left to give. Jones is a technical nightmare for DE’s. He has the athleticism to stay with almost every speed rusher, the power to stand up the power rushes.

He is a dominant run blocker who does a good job sealing off the edge and giving Richardson plenty of room to turn the corner and pickup big chunks of yardage.
2011 Stats: 1.5 sacks allowed per game, 229.25 rushing yards per game

OG Chance Warmack-6’3, 300 lbs.*
Like Jones, trying to get through Warmack is task that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Warmack is one of the strongest interior line man in the SEC and he does a great job of playing with leverage and moving his man out of the way. He finishes his blocks well and really does a great job of fighting through the whistle.

Warmack can be susceptible at times to the delayed blitz from the Mike LB but for the most part he is very good at picking up blitzers or handling the stunt from the DE.
2011 Stats: 1.5 sacks allowed per game, 229.25 rushing yards per game

OC William Vlachos-6’1, 289 lbs.
If there is a weak point on this line, then we have to think Vlachos is it. He’s not nearly as heavy as the rest of his line mates. He doesn’t have the same power and drive blocking ability that they do and we saw him v. Arkansas give ground to their DT’s who frankly are not to his caliber of play.

Vlachos does do a very good job snapping the football though and rarely has any kind of an error in the exchange. However the rush he can expect LSU to bring to his doorstep will need to be something he’s ready to step his game up for.
2011 Stats: 1.5 sacks allowed per game, 229.25 rushing yards per game

NT Josh Chapman-6’1, 310 lbs.
The big man on campus who was asked to replace Mt. Cody on the Bama line two years ago has been a steady contributor for the Tide even though he hasn’t been as highly heralded. Chapman has excelled at taking up multiple blockers for the past two years.

He has been systematic in keeping players like Dont’a Hightower clean so that they can fill the holes and make big plays. He may not put up big numbers but he most certainly has a big impact with his ability to control the gaps.
2011 Stats: 13 tackles, 2.5 TFL, .5 sacks, 2 PBU

DE Jesse Williams-6’4, 326 lbs.*
It’s hard to step into a situation and replace an All-American caliber player like Marcell Dareus but that’s what Jesse Williams is trying to do, and based on the results, he’s not doing too bad a job of it.

At 326 lbs he’s more athletic than Chapman is at the nose and he holds a size advantage over most OT’s that you almost never see is an OT v. DE matchup. Look for LSU to give their OT some help when blocking Williams if he’s able to get his power rush game working.
2011 Stats: 12 tackles, 3.5 TFL, . 5 Sacks, 1 PBU, 2 QBH

LB Courtney Upshaw-6’2, 263 lbs.
On a defense that is absolutely loaded with playmakers, Upshaw stands out because of the way he rushes the passer. His first step is literally like a bolt of lightning and the way he explodes out of his two point stance is incredible. He is so fast off the edge and is able to take such sharp angles to the QB’s that it’s almost impossible to keep him out of the backfield.

Did we mention that unlike other rush LB’s you can’t just run at Upshaw and allow him to over pursue? He’s too disciplined and smart for that, if you run at him, he’ll simple take your RB down for a tackle for loss.
2011 Stats: 26 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF, 6 QBH

LB Dont’a Hightower-6’4, 260 lbs.*
The tackling machine in the middle for the Crimson Tide defense, Hightower picked up right where McClain left off a couple of years ago. Hightower reads plays so well he often is able to figure out where a play is going based on pre-snap indicators.

He attacks holes with ferocity that only the great MLB’s display and his ability to shed blocks in traffic and get free to make plays is a very special trait. We don’t think he’s the most instinctive LB and because of that he can be half a step slow on some plays but he also doesn’t get caught guessing in the wrong direction because of that.
2011 Stats: 48 tackles, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 5 QBH

CB DeQuan Menzie-6’1, 195 lbs.
So we all know why you don’t throw at Kirkpatrick, Barron, or Lester so naturally you’d think you have to pick on the other starter. Well we wouldn’t recommend that given how well Menzie has played this season.

He has very good size, though it’s overshadowed by Kirkpatrick, he runs extremely well and he’s done a very good job at getting his hands on the football this season. He’s literally been inches away from turning a number of those pass breakups into INT’s. LSU can try and pick on Menzie if they want, just don’t say we didn’t warn them.
2011 Stats: 24 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 8 PBU

CB Dre Kirkpatrick-6’3, 190 lbs.*
For all the talk about LSU’s terrific duo at CB the best CB in this game is still on Alabama and that’s Dre Kirkpatrick. People are down on Kirkpatrick this year for both fair and unfair reasons. He has not been that lockdown CB that we have seen him be before. His game has picked it up in recent weeks and the thing we see him doing this year that impresses us the most is his ability to recognize routes and make plays.

Against Arkansas he started to see pre-snap indicators that showed that Arkansas was going to run the bubble screen they love to his side. Well if you want to know how Kirkpatrick dealt with that then just read our game report here, needless to say it didn’t work out too well for Arkansas.
2011 Stats: 18 tackles, 2 TFL, 8 PBU, 2 FF

S Robert Lester-6’2, 206 lbs.*
Coming off the year Lester had last year there was physically no way he was going to be able to repeat that kind of a performance. When you have that many INT’s in one year it’s more than just being that skillful it’s also about being in the right place at the right time more often than not.

This year especially Lester has been avoided by many QB’s because his ability to play CF and his great range. QB’s are spending more time trying to look him off routes this year as opposed to last year.
2011 Stats: 22 tackles, 3 PBU, 1 INT, 5 PBU

S Mark Barron-6’2, 210 lbs.
Saying Mark Barron gets overlooked by some people is hard for even us to believe but when you talk to people about the Alabama defense he’s almost never the first or even second person they mention. His consistency and steady presence on the back line have almost been started to be taken for granted. Barron is amongst the soundest tacklers on the football field.

He is the most instinctive defender they have and his ability to make impact plays in the both the run and pass game require a special blend of skills you just don’t see in many safeties.
2011 Stats: 38 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU

QB Jarrett Lee-6’2, 207 lbs.
Alright let’s go ahead and make this bad boy official, we’re legitimately putting Jarrett Lee on the map as a NFL prospect. We list him as the #15 2012 QB coming into this draft and if his impressive play continues through this game then he will get a bigger boost. Lee has been very good at taking what the defense offers him and allowing his incredible playmakers on the outside to make plays.

It doesn’t hurt that he has two top flight 2014 RB’s, however we don’t want to diminish what Lee has done. He’s been more than just a simple game manager that isn’t making the big mistakes anymore. He’s made big throws in key situations and that’s more than any of us expected out of him.
2011 Stats: 98 of 155, 63.2% cmp, 1,250 yards, 13 TD, 1 INT

WR Rueben Randle-6’4, 207 lbs.*
When Russell Shepard’s suspension was announced earlier this season all eyes turned to Randle as the player who had to step up and deliver, and he has. Randle’s ability to transform his game and become more than just a deep threat has been a big part of why Jarrett Lee has been so successful.

Randle has great size and speed for the WR position, he is beginning to learn how to use his frame to flash a big target and box out smaller defenders. His underrated ability to break tackles and pick up extra yards after the catch is probably the most dangerous part of his game.
2011 Stats: 33 receptions, 638 yards, 7 TD

WR Russell Shepard-6’1, 188 lbs.*
The former top recruit and transformed QB is still trying to get into the flow of this season. He’s still quite raw as a WR and the early season suspension did nothing to help his transition. The one thing Shepard does have though is natural speed and athleticism. This is what LSU’s best weapon may be against Alabama’s bigger DB’s who run well but they don’t have the world class speed that Shepard can bring to the field.
2011 Stats: 9 receptions, 116 yards, 2 TD

TE Deangelo Peterson-6’4, 243 lbs.
Expect Peterson to be targeted a good bit on Saturday because of his ability to be effective off the play-action fake and pickup big first downs. Peterson’s not the best athlete out there but he’s also not a slouch, he can get behind the LB’s and into that intermediate zone that Lee has shown the ability to hit. .

It will be very interesting to see how often he draws the coverage of Dont’a Hightower and how that matchup plays out. Peterson needs to beat Hightower if LSU is going to be able to keep Alabama’s defense honest and prevent them from overloading the box consistently.
2011 Stats: 12 receptions, 137 yards, 1 TD

OT Alex Hurst-6’6, 329 lbs.*
We’re not sure we envy any of LSU’s offensive lineman this week as they take on the most dangerous and explosive front seven in the entire country. Alabama’s 34 defense is pretty straight forward in its alignment, they aren’t going to try and fool them with schematics. Instead Alabama knows that they have a NFL caliber DL and LB corps and will challenge LSU on every snap with blitzes and pressure.

Hurst specifically will have to deal with blocking both Courtney Upshaw and Jesse Williams during the game. Upshaw’s speed is going to give Hurst a lot of issues, but Williams size and power are going to be the more intriguing matchup. LSU needs Hurst to block Williams one on one so they don’t have to go max protect. We’re not sold on his ability to do that all game long.
2011 Stats: .88 sacks allowed per game, 189 rushing yards per game

OC PJ Lonegran-6’4, 300 lbs.*
We have to say that initially we were not fans of Lonegran, it has absolutely nothing to do with his tape but rather because he unseated one of our favorite college football names in T-Bob Hebert (and yes that’s his real name).

Lonegran actually is a very good center who is strong at the POA and is very fundamental with his technique. He sets up quickly off the snap and does a good job staying on balance and anchoring down. He’s mobile enough to get to the 2nd level when asked to. He’s going to get help blocking Josh Chapman all game long, but he needs to be ensure they aren’t giving up ground early to Chapman who can get winded on longer drives.
2011 Stats: .88 sacks allowed per game, 189 rushing yards per game

LB Ryan Baker-6’0, 227 lbs.
It’s no big secret that LSU’s LB corp may be its weak link. It’s not that they aren’t talented, it’s just that they are young and inexperienced. Baker is the leader out there and he will need to rise above his ability in this game. He has to anticipate the running lanes for Trent Richardson early on and shut them down. The issue here is that Baker and Richardson are almost the exact same size so if Richardson gets a head of steam going it could be a long night for LSU.
2011 Stats: 33 tackles, 2.5 TFL, .5 sacks, 1 QBH

CB Morris Clairborne-6’0, 177 lbs.*
Everybody wants to talk about the Honey Badger (Tyrann Mathieu-2014 CB) and the plays he’s made this year but he wouldn’t have those opportunities if Clairborne wasn’t locking down the opposite side of the field forcing the QB to look elsewhere.

Clairborne has been a terror at every facet of the game, he has been a stout tackler on the outside, he has three INT’s to lead the team, and let’s not overlook the fact that’s also returned a kick for a touchdown. That last point may be more important than many of us know given Alabama’s struggles in kick coverage this season.
2011 Stats: 30 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 INT, 4 PBU, 1 QBH

S Brandon Taylor-6’0, 195 lbs.
Somewhat similar to Mark Barron, what Brandon Taylor offers to the Tigers defense is often over looked and sometimes taken for granted. He’s the teams leading tackler, he has done a good job working in the box and helping to make up for some of the deficiencies at LB.

He has also been very good in coverage and what he may lack in range he more than makes up for with the angles he takes and how he reads the QB’s eyes. McCarron will need to be very careful against this LSU secondary and he will need to be sure to look Taylor off some routes if he hopes to complete the ball down the field.
2011 Stats: 48 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PBU

We think that these two teams are truly the two best teams in the country and what they offer to us in terms of entertainment and scouting cannot be matched by any other matchup.

We think Alabama has to get Richardson going, they have the advantage I think along the line and Im not convinced LSU’s front seven can stop him. That being said AJ McCarron is going to have to hit about 5 key throws in order to win this game. It’s not that these need to be deep shots down the field or even TD throws, but he will find himself in situations where they need a 1st down on 3rd and 5 and he will need to make that throw.

LSU has to try and attack Alabama vertically, I know how good their DB’s are but they have had their struggles this year and if LSU can get vertical and spread them out then they can use their running game to effectively chew up the clock. I expect them to use Randle in a variety of places on the field, and I expect Russell Shepard to get the ball in space often as well. Jarrett Lee must be accurate with the football and he must be quick with his reads. He will have less time to get rid of the ball in this game than he may ever have again.

Field position will be key and when it comes to special teams LSU holds the advantage, their return game is superb and Alabama has had issues with their coverage. If LSU can advance the ball to their 30 or beyond consistently then they have a great chance to score points consistently.

We don’t think this game is going to be a defensive juggernaut, we expect big plays to happen and we expect points to be scored. In the end we don’t think there is a defense in the country that can stop Trent Richardson. The Tide take this one and you may as well hand them the crystal football now.