Alabama-LSU week: Saban frets opposing offense
by Marq Burnett
mburnett@annistonstar.com
Nov 04, 2013 | 1817 views |  0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama head coach Nick Saban, right, greets LSU head coach Les Miles after a 21-17 victory by the Crimson Tide in 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert/file)
Alabama head coach Nick Saban, right, greets LSU head coach Les Miles after a 21-17 victory by the Crimson Tide in 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert/file)
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TUSCALOOSA — When Alabama coach Nick Saban says LSU’s offense “is by far the most explosive, most talented offensive team that we’ve faced all year long,” he isn’t just using hyperbole or in any way discrediting other opponents.

The Tigers’ balanced offensive attack features the SEC’s second leading rusher in Jeremy Hill, two of the league’s top four receiving threats in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry and the SEC’s No. 2 passer in quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

LSU averages 40.2 points a game while racking up 480 yards of offense.

“LSU, I think, is one of the best programs in the country in terms of the quality of players they have, the great job their coaches do in developing those players,” Saban said during his Monday news conference. “Also how they play and how they compete in every game they play in. This team could very easily be 9-0, losing two games on the road by three points against very good teams, in very tough environments.”

Hill, with a rare combination of size and speed, is one of only three SEC running backs to average more than 100 yards with 115.25 a game. He has found the end zone 12 times and gains 7.2 yards a carry. He has rushed for more than 100 yards five times this season. Saban said he and his staff recruited Hill heavily, but “things just didn’t work out for us.”

“He’s got great speed for his size,” Saban said. “We obviously thought he was an outstanding player in high school. We recruited him very, very hard. Things just didn’t work out for us. He was very interested in our place and there were circumstances that made it more difficult in the recruiting. But he’s turned out to be a really good player and obviously has done a great job representing their team.”

On the perimeter, Beckham and Landry create problems for opposing secondaries. Beckham leads the SEC and ranks No. 2 in the nation in all-purpose yards with 207.3 a game.

He averages 21.2 yards every time he touches the ball. He has compiled 1,866 all-purpose yards. He’s one of three SEC receivers who averages more than 100 yards with 112.1 a game. He also has eight touchdown receptions.

Landry isn’t far behind with 98 receiving yards per game and eight touchdowns. Of Landry’s 882 receiving yards, 342 have come on third down, which is second nationally. He leads the nation in third down touchdowns with five.

“The combination of these two guys are as good a receivers as we’ve played against all year long,” Saban said. “Not the same style as the Texas A&M guys, but very quick, very athletic. They have the speed to get on top. Very smart in terms of route runners. They do a good job of putting them in various positions that makes them difficult to cover and get the kind of matchups on that you’d like. … These two guys to me are the most challenging group that we’ve played against all year long.”

But it’s Mettenberger who makes it all go. He has thrown for 2,494 yards (276.9 per game) while completing 65.4 percent of his passes. He has 19 touchdowns to seven interceptions.

Last year, Mettenberger completed 24 of 35 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown against Alabama.

“He does a great job of getting them in the right play, understanding what they want to do,” Saban said. “He really contributes a lot to their efficiency on offense, which I think has been very, very good. I think he’s played extremely well this year. He played great against us last year, so we have a lot of respect for him.”

But the Tigers may do their best work on third down. LSU leads the SEC and ranks second nationally in third down conversion percentage, converting 64-of-101 for 63.4 percent. Those numbers led the Tide’s coaching staff to call a defensive meeting about finishing drives.

“We spoke yesterday and there was an emphasis on getting off-the-field on third down and in the red zone,” linebacker Denzel Devall said. “That’s going to be a big thing we’re working on this week and hopefully we’ll improve and show what we have on Saturday.”