LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger. (Associated Press)
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 9:48 PM
Alabama’s quarterback leads the nation in passing efficiency. LSU’s doesn’t.
In fact, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger is 12th among 14 Southeastern Conference quarterbacks, which may be the biggest difference in the two teams and the main reason the Tigers are 10-point underdogs heading into their inevitable showdown against the Crimson Tide on Saturday night.
But Mettenberger, who knows Alabama’s A.J. McCarron quite well, was on the sideline watching when the Tide quarterback had his real breakout game as the MVP of Bama’s 21-0 victory over LSU on Jan. 9 in the BCS National Championship game.
“There were times he struggled last year,” Mettenberger said of McCarron. “But you could tell at the end of the year he really started getting it together. He’s carried that momentum into this year.”
The two got to know each other at Elite 11 camps and along the recruiting trail when both were among the nation’s most heavily recruiting quarterbacks.
Mettenberger is probably where McCarron was a year ago. But whatever chance LSU (7-1, 3-1 SEC) has of upsetting the No. 1-ranked Tide (8-0, 5-0) this time probably rests on Mettenberger coming up with a similar breakthrough.
Like this week.
LSU head coach Les Miles makes no bones about it.
What little damage the Tigers did to Alabama’s feared defense in two games last season was mostly with the option opening things up. That’s not an option with Mettenberger, a straight drop-back guy who doesn’t look to run even when improvising.
“What we’re going to attempt to do is stretch them vertically and horizontally with the passing game,” Miles said. “That’s how you affect defense.”
The Tigers will have to do something against a Tide defense that leads the nation in most of the significant categories and is allowing 57 yards rushing and 146 yards passing per game.
LSU, which has relied heavily on its power running game, has managed 177 yards passing against lesser defenses. Mettenberger had thrown one touchdown pass in the Tigers’ four SEC games.
“I have to make a lot of plays for us to win,” Mettenberger said. “We’re going to have to be very efficient in the passing to kind of create some big plays. Hopefully we can go out there and execute better than we have in the past.”
But Miles seems to be more patient with his quarterback than are the LSU fans, who haven’t seen him yet live up to the summer hype, much of it generated by Miles.
“I like his development,” Miles said. “It’s realistic to think to expect that Zach will play better than he did at the beginning of the year and that he’ll play better as we finish.”
Miles did appear to show more faith in Mettenberger in the last game against Texas A&M when, breaking previous tendencies, the Tigers aired it out early and often against the Aggies, a season-high 29 attempts with 11 completions for 97 yards.
“Unfortunately we didn’t hit any,” Mettenberger said. “The opportunity was there. The more you do that, the more opportunity you get to make those big plays.”
“We’re going to throw the ball better,” Mile said. “The opportunity is going to be there.”
Mettenberger used a basketball analogy.
“You can’t score if you can’t shoot, that’s what I’m saying” he said. “You can’t hit those deep balls if you don’t throw them. It was definitely exciting to see them call my number more. Hopefully, they’ll keep doing it.”