By name alone, you’d expect something good or game-changing to happen from the special teams in any football game.
When it’s a game pitting the best two teams in the country, anything special could certainly be the fulcrum that determines which direction the game goes.
That’s exactly what No. 1-ranked LSU is banking on against No. 2 Alabama this week.
With two stout defenses going toe-to-toe and two efficient offenses ready to see what they can do to make a dent, the kicking games loom large.
Every yard will be precious in a battle for field position, meaning every yard on a kick and every return yard the opposite direction will be a step in the right direction.
Those three offset Alabama’s spectacular return man Marquis Maze – the SEC’s top kickoff returner and second-best punt returner.
Wing has emerged as a bona fide weapon on special teams, averaging 44.4 yards on 31 attempts with 11 kicks of 50 yards or more and 15 downed inside the 20-yard-line. More importantly, opponents have scratched out only 7 return yards.
And when LSU has needed shorter kicks, Wing has adapted.
“Whatever the teams needs at that point time, I just try to execute,” Wing said.
“It’s going to be a battle for field position so I have to focus on different situations and when my number is called I can pin them deep.”
Hairston has had a similar impact since he took over the majority of kickoffs in the fourth game of the season.
The freshman is averaging 66.7 yards a try with eight touchbacks in 35 kicks, consistently giving opponents a longer field to navigate.
That could come into play with Maize – especially with touchbacks to eliminate his chances of striking for a big play.
As always, putting points on the scoreboard will be huge and with two stingy defenses, field goals will be a welcome addition in most situations.
That thrusts Alleman into the spotlight and he’s ready for the challenge.
In his first season since taking over the place-kicking duties, Alleman is 10-of-12 on field goals, with three from 40 yards or beyond.
Like his predecessor Josh Jasper, Alleman gives LSU an option as soon as the offense gets near the opponent’s 35-yeard-line.
Alleman said he feels comfortable as far out as 55 yards.
“If it’s 52 or 53 yards, I feel confident if they call on me,” he said. “It depends on the wind. If it’s in my face, I’m going to tell them the truth and say they need to punt or got for a first down.”
Don’t mistake that honesty for a lack of confidence, though.
Especially this week with what’s at stake.
“Kickers dream for it to come down to their foot, so I’ll be ready,” he said.
“Coming into this game, you have to prepare a little extra. You’ve got to know it’s going to be a good game and it could come down to (a kick) and you have to be ready.”
That same thing applies for LSU’s return men.
Shepard and Beckham handled the duties against Auburn two weeks ago with Mathieu suspended. It won’t be a shock if the pecking order stays that way to preserve Mathieu and Claiborne for their defensive responsibilities.
LSU special teams vs. Alabama special teams
P Brad Wing (6-3, 184, Fr.)
PK Drew Alleman (5-11, 183, Jr.)
KO James Hairston (6-0, 200, Fr.)
DS Joey Crappell (6-2, 245, Sr.)
HO Brad Wing (6-3, 184, Fr.)
PR Odell Beckham Jr. (5-11, 183, Fr.)
-or- Tyrann Mathieu (5-9, 175, So.)
KOR Mo Claiborne (6-0, 185, Jr.)
-or- Russell Shepard (6-1, 185, Jr.)
P Cody Mandell (6-4, 202, So.)
PK Jeremy Shelley (5-10, 165, Jr.)
KO Cade Foster (6-1, 216, So.)
-or- Jeremy Shelley (5-10, 165, Jr.)
DS Carson Tinker (6-1, 220, Jr.)
HO A.J.McCarron (6-4, 205, So.)
PR Marquis Maze (5-10, 180, Sr.)
KOR Marquis Maze (5-10, 180, Sr.)
Wing and Hairston vs. Maze
With field position likely to be at a premium from kickoff to final gun, every yard gained in the kicking game will be massive. Wing has allowed 7 return yards all season and has mastered the art of pinning opposing offenses deep in their own end. Hairston has revived LSU’s kickoff coverage since taking those duties over in the fourth week and averages 66.7 yards a boot – 10.9 yards more than Drew Alleman was and 3.9 yards further than his Alabama counterpart, Cade Foster. Maze is the SEC’s best all-around return man, leading the league in kickoff returns at 29.8 yards a try and is second in punts with 15.8 yards a try. If Wing can dominate like he has all season and put the Tide in long field situations all day long, that’s a huge edge for a Tigers offense that has thrived at seizing the opportunities its defense and special teams has provided.