To limit the framing of Saturday's football game between Alabama and Texas A&M to the contrasting quarterbacks would be overlooking 26 feet and nearly 1,300 pounds of premier offensive tackles.
Texas A&M juniors Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews have provided stability for the dynamic Aggies and have been projected as first-round picks in the 2013 NFL draft. Alabama's tandem of redshirt junior D.J. Fluker and sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio can't claim that, but only because Kouandjio isn't eligible yet.
"Both are very quality groups," LSU coach Les Miles said Wednesday after facing the Aggies and Crimson Tide in recent weeks. "Those two young guys at A&M were playing tackle there when we played them in the Cotton Bowl [after the 2010 season], and they've just matured very nicely. The offensive tackles at Alabama are big, mobile, strong guys, and they're a part of two very capable offensive lines.
"If you put yourself in a position where you're not ready to take on a very powerful block, they're going to move you and move you a distance."
Joeckel (6-foot-6, 310 pounds) has started at left tackle for the Aggies since enrolling early in 2010, and he is rated by Mel Kiper as the No. 6 overall prospect in the '13 draft and the No. 1 tackle. Matthews (6-5, 305) is the son of NFL Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews and is rated by Kiper as the No. 3 junior tackle prospect nationally.
With those two leading the way, Texas A&M allowed just nine sacks in 13 games last season and were a welcome sight for first-year Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin.
"They're a plus for the whole offense and for what we're trying to do schematically," Sumlin said, "and I think they would be a plus for any coach whether you're doing what we do or running the wishbone. They make it a lot easier and make you a lot more confident as a coach."
Joeckel and Matthews were Rivals.com's No. 5 and No. 7 tackle prospects in the 2010 signing class, and Alabama didn't misfire either. Fluker (6-6, 335) was the No. 1 tackle recruit in the 2009 class, as was Kouandjio (6-6, 311) in 2011.
The emergence of Kouandjio a year ago before he tore his ACL against Tennessee enabled Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban to move Barrett Jones to center before spring practice. Jones was an All-American left tackle last season and won the Outland Trophy.
"I think it's always challenging to find guys that have the size and range to play that position and are athletic enough to play on the edge, especially with some of the edge-rushers that we see," Saban said. "That's probably one of the most challenging positions to find good players at."
Fluker is the No. 4 junior tackle prospect according to Kiper, who added that the right tackle "might only be the third-best prospect on the Bama O-line, and he's still a possible first-rounder."
Each tackle duo will enter Bryant-Denny Stadium not only with talent but having been challenged by LSU defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. Kiper has those two Tigers in his top 10 picks for next April.
"It was the most fun I've ever had," Kouandjio said of clashing with Montgomery last Saturday night. "We went at it the whole game."
Said Miles of the edge matchups against Texas A&M and Alabama: "It was good versus good and a very competitive go."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...