BATON ROUGE, La. | In every close game between elite Southeastern Conference teams, there are a handful of plays that make the difference. Last year's game between the University of Alabama and LSU was no different, and one could argue that a lost fumble by Greg McElroy or a tight-end reverse to convert a key fourth down made the difference in the Tigers' 24-21 victory.
But one could also argue that Rueben Randle did it not once, but twice, to the Crimson Tide last year.
In the third quarter, Randle was on the receiving end of a 75-yard second quarter touchdown from Jordan Jefferson that extricated LSU from bad field position and gave it a 10-7 lead. In the fourth quarter, it was Randle's 47-yard catch, this time from Jarrett Lee, which allowed LSU to again flip the field and deny the Crimson Tide sufficient time for a comeback.
"As a team, we fed off that touchdown catch last year," Randle said on Monday in a postpractice interview at LSU's indoor football facility. "But this year's game is a different game. The SEC is a challenge every week, but this will be a big challenge. They bring a lot of pressure. They are very aggressive. So we've got to go downfield if we need to."
Randle's 125 receiving yards in that game were a career high until he eclipsed that this season with a 127-yard performance against Florida, and he will be LSU's main deep threat in this game. That means a classic duel against Alabama's secondary.
"I'll probably see Dre Kirkpatrick," Randle said.
"He's a long corner, and he likes to be aggressive. So we've got to beat them deep. We've got to get off the line and use our speed.
"We'll get chances to do that because we've got a great running game. If you are playing defense (against LSU), you've got to respect the run. That leaves a lot of man-to-man coverage out there, and it keeps the defense off-balance. If they bring the safeties in and try to stop the run, then we go to the pass."
Randle, who was recruited heavily by Alabama as a five-star prospect from Bastrop, La., said he's comfortable with either Lee, now the LSU starter, or Jefferson at quarterback.
"It doesn't matter which one is playing, if they get protected, they can deliver the ball downfield," he said. "The main thing is that we can run the ball and teams are off-balance rushing the passer."
Randle also said that questions about the roaring crowd LSU will encounter for the Nos. 1-vs.-2 showdown in Tuscaloosa were "looking at it the wrong way."
"We all live for the big game," he said. "Especially in a hostile environment. You just have to stay focused and do your job."
Randle says he has seen the best formula for dealing with a hostile crowd at work in an earlier LSU win.
"West Virginia was pretty loud, but as the game went on, they got quiet," he said. "Then they started leaving."
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0225.