While Alabama has been successful this season using multiple receivers, LSU has been beyond content with its 1-2 punch of juniors Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
Beckham already has 1,009 yards on 48 receptions entering Saturday night's showdown in Tuscaloosa, while Landry isn't far behind with 882 yards on a team-high 58 catches. They are clearly the favorite targets for senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, as no other LSU player this season has 10 receptions.
"It's time for us to build on the path we've been building," Landry said Monday at a news conference, "and there is no better way than to try and do it against one of the best defenses in the country. We're really confident. Our approach and preparation in the offseason has really paid off to this point.
"It's going to be a challenge, but that's what we came here for."
Improving the passing game became an obvious need after LSU lost the 2011 national title to the Crimson Tide, who skunked the Tigers 21-0 in New Orleans and held them to 53 passing yards. The strong-armed Mettenberger aided the talents of Beckham and Landry last season, and that trio has flourished even more this year under new coordinator Cam Cameron.
The Tigers are averaging 10 more points and 106 more yards per game than a year ago, and there has been a 79-yard improvement in passing offense per game.
"We have receivers who can get open in space," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We understand who we're playing. It's a very good team, but we think that there's a matchup there that benefits us."
Beckham, a 6-foot, 187-pounder from New Orleans, is coming off a 204-yard, two-touchdown performance two weeks ago against Furman. He had 179 yards on a season-high nine catches in the 59-26 rout of Mississippi State, and he had 118 yards against both TCU and Georgia.
Landry had an even bigger game against Georgia with 10 catches for 156 yards and a touchdown. The 6-1, 195-pounder from Lutcher, La., had seven catches for 121 yards and a touchdown in the loss at Ole Miss and seven catches for 118 yards and a score in the victory over Auburn.
The two receivers are no strangers to Alabama coach Nick Saban, having combined on 12 catches for 149 yards in last season's 21-17 heartbreaking loss to the Crimson Tide.
"These two guys, to me, are the most challenging group that we've played against all year long," Saban said Monday at his weekly gathering. "They're not the same style as the Texas A&M guys, but they're quick, very athletic and have the speed to get on top. If they catch it, we can't let them run with it.
"They made a lot of big plays last year catching the ball and making guys miss and turning short catches into big plays. We missed a few tackles on them that contributed to a couple of big plays."
Saban said LSU has the most explosive and talented offense his Tide will have faced this season, and that's significant. On Sept. 14, the Tide outlasted Texas A&M 49-42 after allowing a school-record 628 yards. The Aggies gained 464 of their yards on Johnny Manziel's passing, with 279 of those going to receiver Mike Evans on seven receptions.
"The thing that helps Texas A&M so much is having a quarterback who is mobile," Landry said.
Beckham and Landry expect to see a lot of press coverage from Alabama's secondary, which is hoping to have top cornerback Deion Belue healthy from a nagging toe injury. The Tide shut down the passing games of Kentucky and Arkansas and used an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Landon Collins to seal a win over Tennessee before halftime, but those three SEC teams have not proven to be strong aerially.
LSU has, so much in fact that Miles thinks it's a beneficial matchup this week.
"They have a great defense and great corners," Beckham said. "Coach Miles just has great trust in us."
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