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6:41 left in the third quarter. LSU ball, first-and-10 at its 42
Wide receiver Rueben Randle—who on video appears to be the fastest, most athletic player on the Tigers' roster—lined up wide left. Facing press coverage against cornerback Dequan Menzie, Randle ran a seven-yard hitch route, caught a perfectly thrown ball from Jefferson, broke Menzie's tackle attempt, juked Hightower with a spin move and dived forward. It was only a 12-yard gain, but it was one of the prettiest short pass plays you'll ever see. Against Alabama, though, this was the sole highlight from Randle; he had just one other reception, for seven yards. LSU needs more from a playmaker who had four 100-yard receiving games this season, averaged 18.1 yards a catch and scored eight touchdowns.
"Randle scares you with his speed," says a coach. "He's inconsistent with his hands, but he's their biggest offensive threat. LSU simply has to get Randle the ball more."
Another thing the LSU staff must do, according to all three SEC assistants: Turn Jefferson loose as a runner. "Look for him to be a running back at times back there," one coach says of Jefferson, whose 11 carries in the first matchup included one sack. "He'll take some monster hits from guys who are 295 pounds. Can Jefferson withstand the punishment? That will be a key question."
One play that LSU will likely call multiple times is the quarterback draw, which the Tigers ran four times in November. But when Alabama sees Jefferson line up in the shotgun with four receivers and fullback J.C. Copeland in the backfield, the Tide defenders will expect the draw. Why? Because the coaches' video study revealed that the Tigers have called this play out of that formation about 80% of the time this season. "Les Miles doesn't care that Alabama will anticipate that the draw is coming," one coach says. "Knowing it and stopping it are two different things. It almost comes down to a pride thing and who's got the bigger you-know-what."
11:36 left in the fourth quarter. Alabama ball, second-and-seven from its 48
The most dangerous player on the field on Monday night, the three coaches agree, will be Tide running back Trent Richardson. On this play Richardson received a handoff from McCarron and ran behind right guard. In a blur of cuts and stiff-arms, he broke five tackles on a 24-yard run—his longest of the night.
But oftentimes the presence of Richardson is just as effective as his running ability. "When I broke down Alabama earlier this year, I was amazed at how many third-and-shorts they had," says one coach. "They win first down—usually by giving the ball to Richardson—then take what the defense will give them on second down, then on third-and-short they have the defense on its heels. This is when both Richardson and McCarron are at their most effective. Because of the threat of Richardson, McCarron thrives in the play-action game. This is when he's most likely to hit Smelley or [wideout] Marquis Maze over the top for the big play. But it's all set up by Richardson."