TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Quarterback matchups often gain more acclaim than they deserve because they never share the field.
But when it comes to star wide receiver vs. star cornerback, the attention is earned.
And when it’s Julio Jones against Patrick Peterson, the hype machine works overtime and rightfully so.
By the time No. 5 Alabama plays 3:30 p.m. Saturday at 12th-ranked LSU, the talk can cease and the two will tangle for the third straight year with the stakes as high as ever. Since both enter with one conference loss, the loser can kiss goodbye any hope at an SEC West title and everything that comes after that.
“If it’s Round 3, it’s Round 3,” Jones said with a smile Monday. “It’s just another opportunity for me to go out there and get better. I like a challenge. I’m not going to veer away from a challenge. He’s a great competitor, and I am, too. It’s going to be good.”
In the two previous matchups, Alabama came out victorious in tight games, but the two stars could each claim one victory apiece individually.
Jones piled up seven catches and 128 receiving yards as a freshman in Baton Rouge when the Tide beat the Tigers 27-21 in overtime. A year later, he had another 102-yard day, but the bulk of that came with Peterson on the sideline.
His worthy competitor had a cramp and was not on the field when Jones took a screen pass 73 yards for the-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter of the 21-15 victory that sealed the SEC West title. All he did was shake a backup taking a poor angle and sprint along the sideline of Bryant-Denny Stadium that vibrated with the noise of 92,000-plus screaming fans.
Asked about the play Monday, Jones shrugged it off as just another in his memory bank, though he did remember the absence of a certain cornerback on that play.
“Yeah, I guess,” he said shrugging his shoulder. “I don’t know. It was just another play. It wasn’t anything I did amazing. Anybody could have just ran.”
A few minutes later, Peterson had his shot to change the game, but referees and replay officials disallowed his interception of Greg McElroy, saying he was out of bounds before securing the pass with about 6 minutes to play. Further inspection of the play appears to reveal Peterson perfectly timed his move, which included stepping in front of Jones and tapping a toe inbounds before stepping on the sideline.
Peterson also broke up three passes and held Jones to 29 receiving yards in a losing effort.
“He probably knows how I play,” Peterson told reporters in Baton Rouge last week. “I know how he plays. So it’s going to be another battle.”
Peterson’s numbers from this season could be deceiving. Though known as one of the premier college cornerbacks in the nation, he has just two interceptions and hasn’t broken up a pass. The easy answer to that: Quarterbacks don’t bother throwing his direction anymore.
But with Jones in his sights this week, that likely won’t be the scenario that plays out in Tiger Stadium.
And safety help isn’t likely in the plan.
“That’s what LSU does: I guess they put Patrick on the best receiver from the opposing team, just put him one-on-one,” Jones said who averages 83.6 receiving yards per game to rank second in the SEC.
As a coach who works mostly with defensive backs in practice, Nick Saban certainly appreciates the skill set Peterson brings to the field. Saban also noted Peterson’s punt/kick return abilities that help push him toward the top of mock NFL drafts and led to two touchdowns.
“He’s also a very instinctive good player all the way around,” Saban said. “He’s got great ball skills, got good ball judgment, he’s a good tackler and he can cover. Those are the three critical factors for a defensive back.”