Alabama and LSU, the nation’s two best defenses, square off on Saturday night. A.J. McCarron and Jarrett Lee, the quarterbacks facing them down, will be afterthoughts, mostly “managing the game” or, a little more bluntly, “trying not to be killed and/or kill their team.” These two gentlemen will be handling the ball on just about every play, however, and it’s conceivable one could win or lose what should hopefully be an excruciatingly tight ball game. The matchup is worth a closer look.
Both were four-star recruits coming out of high-school, McCarron (09) in Alabama and Lee (07) in Texas. McCarron has been Alabama’s “quarterback of the future,” studiously learning under Greg McElroy. It took him slightly longer than expected to win the starting job over Philipp Sims. Lee was thrust by circumstance into a starting role as a freshman, threw 16 interceptions and has been a backup for the most part since. Stepping in for Jordan Jefferson this season, he has been efficient and tolerable.
Their surface numbers are quite similar against FBS opponents. McCarron, throwing about four more times per game, has an edge in completion percentage (67.0 to 61.4) and yards per attempt (8.3 to 7.7). Lee has a better TD to INT ratio (12-1 vs. 10-3) and a slightly higher rating.
Looking a little closer, McCarron has settled in after opening game hiccups. He has thrown 8 TD to 1 INT in the SEC and had very good to great games against Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Tennessee. That said, Alabama has only played two opponents with a winning record and against the two best defenses he faced, Florida and Penn State, McCarron was held to a 55 percent completion rate and under 6 yards per pass. LSU is better than both defenses. McCarron can make difficult throws, but has struggled with accuracy at times. He is facing a brutal pass rush and the best coverage unit in college football.
Jarrett Lee 2011 is different from Jarrett Lee 2008, primarily because he’s not throwing interceptions. He has thrown just one INT in 145 pass attempts against FBS opponents. Lee has been very methodical his last three conference games, completing 72 percent of his passes for 6 TD and 0 INT, though that was on just 47 combined attempts. Kentucky was an off day. What is concerning about Lee is his decline against Oregon (10/22 and 4.5 yards per attempt) and West Virginia (16/28 for 57.1 percent). Both those defenses like to confuse quarterbacks by disguising multiple blitzes and coverage schemes. Alabama does so as well, but with a fully-loaded roster with NFL talent.
Both McCarron and Lee are solid starting quarterbacks capable of leading defensive and power running teams to a BCS Title. Neither, however, can force his way through Saturday’s impending onslaught. If one team struggles establishing the run and gets caught in long passing downs, that could be a problem.
[Photos via Getty]