Julio Jones and Patrick Peterson say their matchup Saturday will be must-see TV.
It’s No. 5 Alabama’s wide receiver Jones against No. 12 LSU’s star cornerback Peterson. Saturday afternoon. At LSU’s Tiger Stadium.
“It’s going to be a great night of football, cornerback and receiver,” Jones said.
Added Peterson: “Julio and I will be back at it again. Two years ago, it was phenom freshman against phenom freshman. We had another phenomenal battle last year. He knows how I play, and I know how he plays. I’ll give it my all. I’m sure he’ll give it his all.”
This is Round 3 in the head-to-head matchup of one of the Southeastern Conference’s top receivers and arguably the nation’s premier cornerback. The two principals have expressed nothing but mutual respect for each other during the buildup.
Jones called Peterson “by far” the best cornerback he has faced. Peterson said Jones looked like NFL star Andre Johnson in his last game.
Expect some NFL scouts, along with the fans, to keep an eye on the matchup between two big, physical stars. Both juniors are projected as first-round draft picks either after this season or next.
Jones said there will be plenty of one-on-one showdowns, like the previous two meetings.
“They have some guys who can fly around, but I’ll really be dealing with Patrick the whole game,” he said.
Jones has had huge plays and 100-yard games against LSU each of the past two seasons. As a freshman, he outjumped Peterson for a 24-yard catch in overtime that set up the winning touchdown.
Last season, Peterson was sidelined with cramps when Jones took a screen pass 73 yards for the decisive touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“I was going on the field, and one of the coaches pulled me back,” said Peterson, a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award. “It was too late in the play clock for me to go on the field and the other guy to come off. When Julio scored, I said ‘Aw, man.’ It was a great effort by Julio.”
It was one of two unhappy memories the LSU star has from that game. He had a near-interception on the sideline, but officials ruled he was out of bounds. The call was confirmed by replay review, setting up an Alabama field goal in the 24-15 win.
“I have definitely erased that play from my mind,” Peterson said. “It was no interception. Alabama got the ball. There was nothing I can do about it. It’s the official’s call. The ref has the final decision.”
Jones has happier memories: Namely, 11 catches for 230 yards in the previous two wins against Peterson & Co.
He is coming off a school-record 221-yard game against Tennessee.
“Julio is a man among boys,” Peterson said. “He’s 6-4, 220. It doesn’t get better than that. He’s got great speed and great hands. He’s physical at the line. Against Tennessee, he looked like Andre Johnson out there. He was diving across the field for balls. It was his breakout game.
“All good receivers have certain routes they run. I feel confident that I know what he’s going to do. There is understood respect between us. I don’t talk to him, and he doesn’t talk to me.”
Peterson said teams have been avoiding him, but expects that to change this week.
He has two interceptions and a blocked kick, but doesn’t have any pass breakups. Peterson estimates opposing teams are only throwing about two passes a game at whoever he’s covering.
“Maybe with Julio,” he said, “I’ll get at least 12.”
Peterson also is one of the nation’s top return men, taking two punts back for touchdowns and averaging 27.5 yards on kick returns.
“Patrick Peterson is one of the best defensive backs in the country,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “He’s a great return guy, too. I think he’s a physical guy. He’s got great athletic ability, size and speed for his position. But he’s also a very instinctive, good player all the way around. He’s got great ball skills, good ball judgment, he’s a good tackler and he can cover.
“Those are the three critical factors for a defensive back. He’s got them all covered.”
Jones ranks second in the SEC with 669 yards on 45 catches. He faces frequent double-teams, but expects plenty of solo matchups with Peterson. LSU coach Les Miles said he doesn’t expect to shadow Jones but will “mix and match” coverage.
“Julio Jones may be one of the top receivers in the country and is having a great year,” Miles said. “He is really lately playing his best.
But, he added, “Hopefully, at the right times we’ll have Patrick Peterson on him.”