For LSU to upset top-ranked Alabama this Saturday night in Baton Rouge, Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger knows he has to contribute significantly.
"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 game to create some big plays. Hopefully we can go out there and execute better than we have in the past.
"The opportunities are going to be there."
The biggest concern for the No. 5 Tigers is how their first-year starting quarterback will hold up, especially if Alabama adds to its 104-3 first-quarter scoring advantage this season. The Crimson Tide lead the Southeastern Conference by scoring on 53.6 percent of their possessions (52 of 97), while the Tigers are tied for eighth at 37.9 percent (39 of 103).
LSU is just 106th nationally in passing offense with 177.4 yards a game and is averaging less than one touchdown pass per contest.
Mettenberger was expected to add a downfield punch to LSU's offense but ranks 85th in passing yards a game. The Tigers were off last week after winning 24-12 at Texas A&M, when the 6-foot-5, 222-pound redshirt junior from Watkinsville, Ga., completed 11 of 29 passes for 97 yards but had a 29-yard scoring strike to Kadron Boone with 11 seconds left in the first half to put the Tigers ahead for good.
"It's at the point where we really need to execute the sucker better," Tigers coach Les Miles said. "I don't know if you can put all the passing woes on our quarterback, because some of our balls have been pretty well thrown. I see him coming on, and I see him progressing. I think he was smart with the ball in this last game more than he had been in the past, so we expect him to continue to develop.
"It's his first year of starting, and it's his first series of big games in a row, so there is some growth there."
Mettenberger has completed 112 of 198 passes (56.6 percent) for 1,419 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions, numbers that place him 77th nationally in efficiency. Alabama's AJ McCarron, who also is a redshirt junior, sits atop the national efficiency rankings, having completed 68.9 percent of his passes for 1,684 yards with 18 touchdowns and no interceptions.
McCarron's first start in the Alabama-LSU rivalry a year ago resulted in a 9-6 overtime loss in Tuscaloosa. He completed 16 of 28 passes for 199 yards but threw an interception that set up an LSU field goal.
In Alabama's 21-0 win over LSU in January's BCS championship, McCarron completed 23 of 34 attempts for 234 yards and was mistake-free.
"Hopefully I can keep progressing like he has," Mettenberger said. "He's had two fantastic years."
With McCarron making a third start in this matchup compared to Mettenberger's first, Alabama would seem to have a decided advantage with the position that matters most. Yet when the bright lights are on Saturday at Tiger Stadium, Miles is confident his quarterback will be more than ready.
"I think our guys translate that pretty effectively," Miles said. "They realize it's about inside the lines and what you're being asked to do. It can not take on more than that for Zach. He's just our quarterback who needs to do the things we ask him to do."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...