Arguably the best college football matchup of the Week 7 schedule is when the South Carolina Gamecocks travel to Baton Rouge to take on the LSU Tigers. Both teams are ranked inside the Top 10 of the AP Poll and still very much alive in the SEC Championship hunt.
And while both of these teams are very similar, the quarterback position is completely one-sided. South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw has really stepped his game up from a year ago, while Zach Mettenberger has been a complete disappointment from all of the hype he received during the offseason.
Both defenses should make things difficult, so the winner of the game could be the squad that gets better production from the quarterback position.
Here is why Shaw will have the better day in the big SEC matchup.
The USC Defense Will Be Too Much to Handle
Before we get into the actual quarterbacks, we must come to the realization that this LSU defense is nowhere near as good as it was last season. Sure, points wise the unit is still great and it is continuing to rack up a large number of sacks. But it is missing its playmaker in Tyrann Mathieu and seems to be missing that spark that the Honey Badger gave this defense last year.
Not to mention that injuries to the linebacker position are beginning to add up, as true-freshman Kwon Alexander is the latest to go down.
The defense of South Carolina has really stepped up from a year ago, as the unit is ranked 13th in the country in total defense and is tied for the most sacks with 25. This squad generates relentless pressure up front and makes you earn every little inch that the offense is trying to get.
I've got to get better at throwing with pressure in my face, be accurate with that. Mettenberger said. It seems like every week we've started off well and then sputtered a little bit.
(On the interception last week) I had some pressure in my face and couldn't get my step down on the throw like I wanted to. There's no excuse. You've got to be able to make those throws at awkward angles and with pressure in your face.
While the Tigers defense is still great, it isn't as intimidating as it once was, as Florida ran the ball 25 straight times last week to end the game and finish the upset. Something like that wouldn't have been allowed last year, as you never saw this unit defeated the way it looked against the Gators.
If Mettenberger couldn't get going against the defense of Florida, there is no reason to believe he will be able to handle the consistent pass-rush of the South Carolina Gamecocks.
More Weapons Around Him
This LSU running game was stopped in its tracks last week against Florida, as the Tigers averaged less than two yards a carry. While Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Kenny Hilliard are all experienced runners, South Carolina will do similar things to this offense and force Mettenberger to beat them with his arm.
The problem is that the first-year starter has yet to hurt a defense with his throwing ability and doesn't scare anybody as a passing threat. The Gamecocks, who are already second in the SEC in run-defense, will load up the box and take away running lanes from the Tigers running backs. This is similar to what South Carolina was able to do last week to Georgia, as it held Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to a combined 76 rushing yards.
Meanwhile, South Carolina has a running back in Marcus Lattimore, who has rushed for over 100 yards in two straight games and has scored nine touchdowns. The LSU defense over time began to ware down due to the power running game of Florida and wasn't able to shed blocks the way we are used to seeing this Tiger defense play.
If similar things happen against South Carolina, this will make the job easier for quarterback Connor Shaw, as he won't have to win the game for the Gamecocks, which will decrease his chances of making a mistake.
You can't say the same thing for Mettenberger with the way things are going.
Shaw Is a Bigger Part of the Offense
Although Steve Spurrier and company will love to establish the running game early, Shaw plays a big role in this offense. Although he has thrown the ball only 74 times in five games, he has 64 carries and is averaging over four yards on the ground. Due to the junior's dual-threat ability, Shaw is involved more in the offense, running a lot of play-action, zone-reads and quarterback designed runs.
He also has the ability to be accurate with the football once he develops a rhythm.
As for Mettenberger, there are currently seven other SEC quarterbacks that have thrown the ball more than the 144 times the LSU quarterback has. The team has run the ball 241 times and uses the first-year starter more as a game-manger than anything else.
With the lack of trust from the coaching staff and dismal production from Mettenberger through the first half of the season, you have to believe Shaw will have the bigger day in the SEC showdown.
Note: All stats come from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.