McCarron & Maze have Tigers' full attention

Part 6: Breaking down the matchup of Alabama's passing game vs. LSU's secondary

Many pundits expect LSU and Alabama to come out pounding the ball, fighting and clawing to win the battle on the ground. The hope is winning that battle would in turn win the time of possession battle, which in turn could win the game.


But what if they don’t come out with a ground and pound style?


It’s certainly on the minds of some LSU defensive backs.


“I think they are going to balance it out,” senior safety Brandon Taylor said. “With them, it could be 50-50 with the run and the pass.


“I wouldn’t be surprised if they came out throwing.”


The statistics show that the Tide hadn’t hesitated to air it out so far.


Quarterback A.J. McCarron, a sophomore in his first year as a starter, has thrown at least 20 passes in every game this season. Five times he has thrown for over 200 yards, and in last week’s 37-6 win over Tennessee he passed it for a season high 284 yards.


McCarron tossed two interceptions in the season opener against Kent State, but has thrown just one interception since.


Then there’s his ability to spread it around. In eight starts, McCarron has hit 14 different targets, and seven players have double-digit receptions.


“He makes quality decisions, is very confident with his throws and is protected pretty well,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “That being said, I think he is really doing the things that their coaches are asking him to do.”


Taylor added: “He doesn’t hold onto the ball very long, so it’s hard for people to get to him. You rarely see him get sacked or throw an interception.”


With Trent Richardson in the backfield and one of the SEC’s most reliable offensive lines in front of him, McCarron has been able to set up the pass with the run – something LSU has also had success with.


That much the Tigers know.


“Their running backs are going to try to catch us off guard and throw it over our heads,” sophomore safety Eric Reid said. “We just have to make sure we play smart and don't let the little things beat us.”


Who do the Tigers need to pay attention to when 14 different red jerseys are catching passes?


Start out with Marquis Maze, whose 39 catches are double the mark of the next receiver – fellow senior Darius Hanks, who is tied with Richardson with 18 receptions.

After two weeks of film study, Taylor said it was Maze who caught his attention.


“Maze is a very aggressive player to be so small,” Taylor said. “He’s really physical. And they have very fast receivers. They like to get up the field vertically.


“All the receivers block well. We know they are going to get after us.”


What also stood out to Taylor were Alabama’s two tight ends, Brad Smelley and Michael Williams, who have combined for 26 catches, 317 yards and three touchdowns.


“(Williams) is a great blocking and passing tight end, and (Smelley) is the fastest tight end they have,” Taylor said. “He’s kind of like DeAngelo Peterson is for us. He can get up field very fast. We just have to keep an eye on him.”


In last year’s 24-21 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, former Tide receiver Julio Jones led all receivers with 10 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown. Of the players that will see action this weekend, Maze had four receptions, Hanks had two receptions, and Williams, Smelley and Richardson all had one reception.


Alabama passing game vs. LSU defensive backs

Projected starters


WR Marquis Maze (5-10, 180, Sr.)

WR Darius Hanks (6-0, 185, Sr.)

WR Kenny Bell (6-1, 175, So.)

TE Brad Smelley (6-3, 229, Sr.)

- or -

Michael Williams (6-6, 269, Jr.)


CB Mo Claiborne (6-0, 185, Jr.)

CB Tharold Simon (6-3, 187, So.)


CB Tyrann Mathieu (5-9, 175, So.)

SS Eric Reid (6-2, 208, So.)

FS Brandon Taylor (6-0, 194, Sr.)

Key matchup

Mathieu vs. McCarron

After being suspended for the Auburn game, Mathieu hasn’t played football in weeks – meaning the Honey Badger will be hungry for cobra (or just McCarron). LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis will likely try to make Alabama win this game in the air, meaning McCarron will have to work around one of the nation’s most talented defensive backfields. Whether it’s in coverage or as a blitzing nickel back, Mathieu could swing this game in LSU’s favor by throwing off the rhythm of a young Alabama quarterback.

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