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Alabama-LSU could be battle of bad quarterbacks

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Don't kid yourself. It's going to be a smackdown. For starters, LSU and Alabama don't like each other. They've traded knockouts the last two years, and the team on the losing end went on to finish the season abysmally. The Tide was still in the title hunt in 2007 before giving up 41 points at home to the Tigers. Nick Saban's squad went into a tailspin after that, losing four straight. Then last year, LSU was a two-loss defending national champion looking to play its way into another SEC title game when Alabama won in overtime. The Tigers promptly fell apart, losing to Ole Miss and Arkansas, finishing 7-5, and settling for a postseason spot in that three-hour cow commercial known as the Chick-fil-A bowl.
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Both teams have title shots again. If Alabama wins, it locks up the SEC West and sets up a showdown with Florida. LSU could play itself back into the BCS picture with an upset. So the stakes couldn't be higher. Unfortunately for both teams, the outcome could rest on the shoulders of two not-very-good quarterbacks. Make no mistake, both teams play smash-mouth defense. Alabama is giving up 11.4 points and 64.9 rushing yards per game. Mark Ingram's individual numbers are better than that. On the other side, LSU gives up a lot more yards, but only 12.1 points per game. And you don't get ranked third and eighth in the country without fielding some quality athletes. Too bad the best ones aren't taking snaps from center. Alabama's Greg McElroy began the season as a serviceable replacement to John Parker Wilson, but he's gotten worse with age. He's completing less than 60 percent of his passes and has looked like a little lost lamb in the pocket. Even an all-world receiver like Julio Jones hasn't been able to make McElroy look better than average. "Greg did a really good job, I think, in the Tennessee game," Saban said. "I think he got some of his confidence back. He's built on that over the bye week and feels very comfortable with what we're doing and what he needs to focus on: playing good football and not worrying so much about how he's doing but on what he's doing. "I've given him the best chance at being successful, and have always said that the responsibility for the quarterback lies with everyone: the offensive line doing a little better job, receivers having balance and being able to run it. So, Greg has done a good job, and we hope that will continue." By comparison, McElroy should do fine, not because he picked up Dan Marino-type skills in the off week, but because LSU's Jordan Jefferson has been as consistent as tapioca pudding this year. He looked great and terrible against Georgia, and looked lost against Mississippi State. The last couple of weeks have been better. He completed 66.7 percent of his passes against Auburn and Tulane, but hasn't faced a defense like Alabama's in a month, and when he did, he didn't fare too well. Against Florida at home, Jefferson threw for only 96 yards. He was sacked five times in one half, and converted only one third down the entire game. The fact that LSU scored three points was a surprise. Given how the Tigers played, they should have been shut out. But all that has changed, at least according to Les Miles. "I think there's a confidence as our offensive team comes together, both run and pass," Miles said. "I feel like there's a commitment to excellence there, and a comfort in what's being called, more than there has been. I think offensively we're getting better." They need to. "They have good receivers who can make plays down the field and Jordon Jefferson has been more and more consistent throughout the year," Saban said. "His pass efficiency is good. They're doing a little better job of executing, and scoring more points as a result." Whether they'll be able to do it against arguably the best defense in the country is an open question. In the battle of the bad quarterbacks, it could come down to which receivers bail their man out best. On that front, give the edge to Alabama. Jones is completely healthy, Colin Peek is ready to go, and Ingram has proven that he can catch and run just as well as he can run and run. Plus, LSU's pass rushing is near the cellar in the SEC, which means McElroy will probably have more time than Jordon. But a fired-up LSU team could surprise. As Jefferson said, "We've got to play Alabama like it's our national championship game." If they do, this could be one of the best games of the season so far, despite the quarterbacks.
Tagged: Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, LSU, Auburn

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