THIBODAUX — LSU and Alabama won’t face off until Nov. 3, but Tigers cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron gave everyone an early taste of the brewing battle last month, when they took the rivalry to Twitter.
As a refresher, the back-and-forth began with Mathieu daring the Twitterverse to try throwing against him this season, and McCarron responded with a reminder of Bama’s win over LSU in the national title game.
The war of abbreviated words escalated from there, ending with McCarron calling for patience from the Tide faithful.
“Bama fans don’t talk anymore ab it,” McCarron tweeted. “Let’s just sit back quietly and wait our turn. Y’all know the date. It’s comin. #november3rd #bamanation.”
On Friday, speaking from the Manning Passing Academy, McCarron said it was all in fun.
“I respect him on the field and think he’s a great player,” McCarron said. “That’s what makes college football so fun and special for the fans. I think that’s why it’s a little different, and more fans are involved than in the NFL.”
McCarron said he looks forward to facing LSU, and particularly Mathieu, a finalist for the Heisman Trophy last season, because it gives him a chance to measure himself against the best.
He didn’t throw any touchdowns in two games against LSU in 2011, but he completed better than two thirds of his passes for 234 yards to win offensive MVP honors in the title game.
“I love playing the best teams,” he said. “I think that’s when I play my best, in the big games, so anytime somebody is considered the best, I want to see where I rank. I love going against them, and I love the challenge.”
With 40 college quarterbacks slated to attend the Manning camp, rivals are bound to clash, but that hasn’t been the case between McCarron and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger.
Though they both said that while fans may not like to hear it, they’ve been friends since high school, when they’d cross paths at recruiting camps. Working in Thibodaux has given them a chance to hang out.
“I know he plays for Alabama and everything, but we’re still good friends,” Mettenberger said.
Mathieu needs offense
Mathieu’s rise to Heisman finalist last season was impressive, but even a season of repeat dominance on defense and at kick returner might not be enough to land him the trophy.
Only one defensive player has snatched that honor, Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997. According to FOX college football analyst Charles Davis, the gap between Woodson and Mathieu is simple: offense.
“Woodson was terrific on defense, but what won the Heisman for him and got everyone focused was that he played offense and made big plays there, then he had returns,” Davis said. “Well, Tyrann has the returns. Imagine if they give him a couple of plays on offense and he breaks one, then everybody goes a little bit (wild).”
Murray speaks on Crowell
With a relatively soft schedule (in Southeastern Conference terms) and a quarterback who led the league in passing touchdowns last year, Georgia is eyeing a return to the SEC title game.
But those hopes took a dent this summer, when running back Isaiah Crowell was kicked off the team following an arrest on three weapons charges. Crowell subsequently enrolled at Alabama State, leaving the Bulldogs without their leading rusher from 2011.
“It’s sad, but we’ll move on,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “I think we have a great stable of running backs right now, some really talented guys. I’m excited about them, their potential and what they can do next year.”
Crowell rushed for 850 yards and five touchdowns to be named SEC Freshman of the Year. Second-leading rusher Carlton Thomas, who tallied 361 yards and two touchdowns, also left the team this offseason (transfer).
Pro approach to Tulane
The Green Wave may have gone 2-11 and lost its last 10 games in 2011, but there’s an air of optimism in uptown New Orleans.
The hiring of Curtis Johnson as head coach in December gave the program a boost of energy, and he’s changing the team’s culture to more closely resemble that of his last gig — a five-year stint as the Saints’ receivers coach.
“He has brought a lot more professional atmosphere to our program,” quarterback Ryan Griffin said. “Everything we do is going to be just like the Saints. All of our walk-throughs, everything is going to be really professional.”
Griffin, who completed 55.6 percent of his passes last season for 2,502 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, also said the playbook requires much more attention than in prior years.
“In the past, guys could get away with not studying their playbook after a practice, but we’re running the Saints’ offense,” he said. “You literally have to be in your playbook every night before practice. If you’re not, it reflects on the field. You won’t line up correctly or run the right route. That’s how he knows that people aren’t doing what they should be doing.”