Last Modified: Thursday, November 07, 2013 10:12 AM
Admittedly there wasn’t much of a celebration at the end, but last year’s Alabama game was undeniably LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s coming out party.
Considering the competition, it was by far the best game of his first year as a starter — 24 of 35 passing for 298 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry that gave LSU its ill-fated lead in the fourth quarter.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham remembers seeing something else in Mettenberger that night.
Just before running out on the field, the Tigers always get in a tight huddle at the door of the locker room. Normally, last year, it would be defensive leaders Kevin Minter and Eric Reid in the middle of things, revving up emotion.
This time somebody from the offense stepped into the mosh pit.
“I remember Zach taking his helmet off, and it just looked like there was fire in his eyes,” Beckham said. “He was so amped and ready to play.
“This game last year was when Zach emerged as a leader.”
Except for the decisive three-interception first half in the upset loss at Ole Miss, Mettenberger used that game to emerge as one of the Southeastern Conference’s top quarterbacks this season — second in the conference only to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in passing yards, pass efficiency and touchdown passes.
And, if LSU is to pull off an upset of Alabama Saturday in Tuscaloosa, it will likely have to start with Mettenberger getting the ball to Beckham and Landry, the top pass-catching duo in the SEC.
“I think our quarterback has to play well,” LSU head coach Les Miles said.
LSU also has the league’s second-leading rusher in Jeremy Hill , and Miles will preach and practice a balanced offense. But if LSU has an advantage against Alabama, it’s probably with the dual threat of Beckham and Landry in Crimson Tide secondary.
“We like the matchup,” Miles said. “We think we give them some challenges on the perimeter. We’ve got a quarterback, first of all, that can make the throw and several receivers that can get open in space.
“Who we are playing, they are a very good team, but we think there is a matchup there that benefits us.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban evidently has noticed too.
“This is by far the most explosive and most talented offensive team that we have faced all year,” Saban said.
Texas A&M, which leads the SEC in scoring and total offense, might beg to differ. The Aggies hung 628 yards on Alabama in a 49-42 loss, including 464 via Manziel’s arm.
The LSU and A&M offenses are apples and oranges, beginning with the hyper-mobile Manziel compared to the statute that is Mettenberger.
“It was a fun game to watch,” Mettenberger said. “But, for us, scheme-wise, it’s not very good for research. We won’t run many of those formations, we won’t get the same looks that A&M got.
“But obviously they showed you can put points on that defense.”
Or, as Landry put it, “No defense is invincible.”
“There’s some things to learn there,” Miles said.
Alabama, however, has been pretty close since giving up the most yards in school history against the Aggies. In the following six games, the Tide has allowed 26 points.
But that may be misleading.
The Tide defense, as usual, leads the SEC in virtually every defensive category, including scoring defense, total defense, rushing and pass defense.
And Alabama did shut out Ole Miss, whose offense obviously gave LSU fits, in the six games since A&M. But the other five teams were lowly Georgia State and Colorado State out of conference, along with three of the four worst offenses statistically in the SEC — Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas.
Those three are also three of the four worst passing attacks in the SEC.
LSU’s best chance may be to attack the Bama secondary with Beckham and Landry, who rank No. 2 and No. 4 in the SEC and receptions and yards and between have 16 receiving touchdowns, which is more than seven SEC teams.
The Tide secondary will be missing All-SEC safety Vinnie Sunseri, but Saban said he doesn’t expect much drop off with Louisiana native Landon Collins. It’s the cornerback spot opposite dependable Deion Blue that has been a problem area. Saban, who much prefers man-to-man coverage with his corners, has started four players in the spot, with none of them pleasing him enough to keep the job.
“We have to capitalize on the situations where we have a chance to make a big play,” Mettenberger said.
“Alabama does a lot of great things well,” Landry said. “But we also do a lot of great things. It just comes down to individual guys making play. That’s what this game is going to be about.”