Sunday, January 8, 2012

Yahoo! Sports: Who has the edge when LSU passes?

Who has the edge when LSU passes?

By Mike Huguenin, Yahoo! SportsJan 6, 9:54 pm EST

Today is part 4 of our six-part position breakdown of Monday's BCS national championship game, looking at LSU's passing attack.

Part 1 was a look at Alabama's rush offense,
Part 2 focused on LSU's rush offense and
Part 3 was on Alabama's passing attack.
Today, Part 4 is on LSU's passing attack
Part 5 will be on the Tide's and Tigers' special teams and
Part 6 will be on the two coaching staffs.

You're forgiven if you don't think LSU thinks too much of the forward pass.

By the numbers

LSU pass offense

Passing yards per game: 160.2 (105th nationally)
Passing TDs: 21 (T-49th nationally)
Interceptions: 4 (T-1st fewest nationally)
Completion percentage: 61.8 (T-45th nationally)
Average yards per completion: 12.85 (31st nationally)
Total completions: 162 (108th nationally)
Passing attempts per game: 20.2 (113th nationally)
Passes of more than 20 yards *: 31 (T-84th nationally)
Passes of more than 50 yards *: 4 (T-50th nationally)
300-yard games: 0
200-yard games: 5
Games of fewer than 150 yards: 5

Alabama pass defense

Passing yards per game: 116.3 (1st nationally)
Passing TDs: 6 (1st fewest nationally)
Interceptions: 12 (T-53rd nationally)
Completion percentage: 48.3 (T-1st nationally)
Average yards per completion: 9.12 (1st nationally)
Total completions: 153 (2nd fewest nationally)
Passing attempts per game: 26.4 (14th fewest nationally)
Passes of more than 20 yards *: 15 (1st fewest nationally)
Passes of more than 50 yards *: 2 (T-12th fewest nationally)
300-yard games: 0
200-yard games: 2
Games of fewer than 150 yards: 10

Note: Stats from NCAA's statistics website; the asterisked ones are from

The Tigers have run 826 plays this season, with the emphasis on "run." Just 31.7 percent of LSU's offensive plays have been passing attempts (262), and just 32.5 percent of LSU's 62 touchdowns have come via the pass (21 of them).

QB Jordan Jefferson has started the past four games, and he has thrown for 684 yards, six TDs and one pick this season. Jarrett Lee started the first nine games and has 14 TDs and three picks, but Lee seems unlikely to see much time against Alabama in the title game. Indeed, he threw two interceptions in the teams' regular-season meeting, which was his last start; he has thrown just five passes in the past four games.

Jefferson has an OK arm, but is more dangerous as a runner than as a passer. While he avoided killer mistakes this season, he made a bunch of them the past two seasons. His mobility is a plus, and he can be effective at times on rollout passes.

He has some nice weapons at wide receiver. Junior Rueben Randle is a big guy (6 feet 4/208 pounds) who can fly, but he has just 94 catches in his career, including 50 for 904 yards and eight TDs this season. Though he doesn't get the ball all that much, he must be accounted for on every play.

True freshman Odell Beckham Jr. has emerged as a solid No. 2 receiver. His dad was a running back for the Tigers in the early 1990s, and his mom was an All-American track athlete at LSU. Beckham has 36 catches for 437 yards and two scores. But he hasn't scored since Game 5 against Kentucky.

No other player on the roster has more than 17 catches.

TE DeAngelo Peterson has the speed to be a downfield threat, and has 17 receptions and one score. Junior WR Russell Shepard lost his starting job to Beckham; he is a superb athlete but remains raw as a receiver. He has 14 receptions, but four have gone for touchdowns.

LSU's line has allowed 14 sacks, with one of those coming in the win over the Tide.

Alabama has 26 sacks this season; LB Courtney Upshaw leads with 8.5, including the one against LSU. Only one defensive lineman, backup T Nick Gentry, has more than one sack, and he has 3.5.

While the sack total might seem low, Alabama thrives on getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Tide also has 40 quarterback hurries, with Upshaw leading the way with 11. Fellow LB Dont'a Hightower has eight pressures, three sacks and three pass breakups.

Alabama leads the nation in pass defense and pass efficiency defense, and also has allowed the fewest TD passes (six). The Tide has allowed just two TD passes in the past seven games. Alabama has 12 picks, and two of them came against LSU (both thrown by Lee).

The secondary isn't as deep as LSU's, but the starters make this one of the top two or three defensive backfields in the nation. Starting CBs Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie have combined for one pick and 20 pass breakups, and backup DeMarcus Milliner leads the team with three interceptions and also has nine breakups.

Senior SS Mark Barron is a likely first-round pick, and while his main value comes in run support, he does have one pick and five breakups. FS Robert Lester's play dropped a bit from last season, but he still has two interceptions.

The verdict: Alabama gets the edge here. LSU didn't throw for more than 225 yards in a game this season – that total came against FCS program Northwestern State (La.) – and threw for 105 or fewer yards in three of its past five games, including just 30 in the SEC championship game win over Georgia. To expect the Tigers to have a big passing game against Alabama is delusional. Indeed, if LSU has to go to the air to win, it's in big trouble. Still, LSU has the potential to hit one or two big plays in the passing game, with "big" meaning 20-plus yards. Shepard had a 34-yarder against Alabama on Nov. 5.

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