When No. 5 LSU and No. 1 Alabama face off in Baton Rouge this Saturday, it’ll mark the seventh meeting between legendary head coaches Les Miles and Nick Saban. However, it’ll be Tigers’ quarterback Zach Mettenberger who’ll be at the forefront of it all.
More specifically, LSU needs their junior quarterback to have the game of his life if they have any hope of knocking off the Crimson Tide this weekend.
It’ll be a tough task to accomplish when pitted against such a stout Alabama defense.
The Crimson Tide comes in ranked No. 1 in overall defense, passing defense and rushing defense, allowing a total of 203.1 yards per game. They also rank No. 6 with 14 interceptions and No. 2 with a turnover ratio of plus-17.
That’s bad news for Mettenberger and an LSU passing attack that ranks No. 109 in the nation, only averaging 177.4 yards per game.
In eight games this season, Mettenberger has passed for 1,419 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions. He has a 56.6 percent completion rate and holds a modest 124.4 quarterback rating.
A 38-22 victory over Towson on Sept. 29 stands as the best performance of Mettenberger’s career. The first-year starter completed 15-of-26 passes for 238 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
That’s hardly a performance to write home about. In fact, the majority of the quarterbacks on top-25 teams would consider that a pedestrian effort.
The news becomes even more troubling for the Tigers when you consider that in three games since that outing against Towson, Mettenberger has failed to throw for more than 160 yards.
Furthermore, he’s failed to complete more than 50 percent of his passes in those games.
Is Mettenberger capable of stepping up to the challenge?
That’s most definitely not going to get it done against a Crimson Tide defense that seems to feast on opposing quarterbacks' vulnerability.
Conversely, LSU’s offense seems to feed off of their quarterback’s success through the air.
In the four games where Mettenberger passed for more than 190 yards, the Tigers were 4-0 and averaged 45.75 points per game. In the four games he has failed to reach that mark the Tigers were 3-1 and averaged only 18.25 points per game.
That’s a difference of 27.5 points per game.
On Saturday, they’ll need every single point against a defense that comes in ranked No. 1 in scoring defense—allowing opponents only 8.1 points per game.
Relying on their running game is almost certainly out of the question.
While Alabama boasts a stifling pass defense, their rush defense is even better. Opponents have only managed a miniscule 57.25 yards per game on the ground.
That only serves as even more of a reason for Mettenberger to reach deep down and find that extra gear.
Since 2009, only one quarterback has thrown for more than 250 yards on Alabama’s defense—Arkansas’ Ryan Mallet back in 2010.
In a 24-20 Crimson Tide victory, Mallet went 25-of-38 for 357 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Mallet actually had the Hogs leading through the entirety of the game until Mark Ingram pushed Alabama ahead for good with only three minutes, 18 seconds remaining.
It might be hard to fathom, but 300 just might be the lucky number for the Tigers, who are hoping to make it three straight regular season wins against their SEC foe.
Mettenberger wouldn’t be the first Tigers quarterback to take his game to the next level when the season was on the line.
Just take a look at quarterback Jordan Jefferson last season.
Leading up to the then-No. 1 Tiger’s Nov. 25 showdown versus then-No. 3 Arkansas, Jefferson averaged 66.1 yards per game through the air.
With their national title hopes on the line, Jefferson knew he had to take his game into fifth gear.
The senior responded by completing 18-of-29 passes for 208 yards, two total touchdowns and an interception, leading the Tigers to a convincing 41-17 victory.
Eleven months later, Mettenberger is faced with the same task.
Sure, it’s a much tougher defense than Jefferson faced. However, the difference between a good season and a championship-winning season is being able to achieve what is thought to be impossible.
So what’ll it be?
A season that ends with a “good effort” speech from Miles or one that ends with the Tigers hoisting up their third BCS title in the last 10 years?
Only Mettenberger can provide the answer to that one.
You can follow Sebastian on Twitter at @SP7988