Alabama vs. LSU: Face It, This Is Really All About Zach Mettenberger

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterNovember 2, 2012

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 13:  Zach Mettenberger #8 of the LSU Tigers throws the ball before a game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Tiger Stadium on October 13, 2012 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

We've had a week full of hype, one full day of ESPN coverage and more analysis than any other football game has received all year long.

Alabama at LSU, Saturday night, in Death Valley, for the SEC West lead.

You've heard and read how great the running game is for each school, how efficient Alabama is in the passing game, how fast and physical each defense is and yada, yada, yada.

But this game boils to one person: LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

The junior signal-caller for the Tigers has been nothing short of a major disappointment this season. LSU entered 2012 with dreams of stretching the field, only to find that Mettenberger—he of the supposed big arm—is essentially the sequel to the Jarrett Lee/Jordan Jefferson horror show. 

LSU has successfully game-planned around its quarterback, relying on a punishing running game and a stingy defense to post a 7-1 record, earn a No. 5 ranking in the BCS and stay on the periphery of the BCS National Championship race.

The Tiger running game has been solid this season, averaging 208.38 yards per game—the third-best mark in the SEC.

One problem, though: Alabama has the second-best mark in the SEC with 214.38 yards per game. Oh, and the most efficient passing offense (184.73), fewest interceptions (0), highest completion percentage (69.6 percent) and highest yards per attempt (9.7) in the SEC.

That's a direct contradiction to LSU, a team that ranks 10th or worse in the SEC in each of those categories except for interceptions, where they come in fifth (4).

The scheme is partially to blame for that, but Mettenberger's inability to make good decisions when pressure gets in his face is also at fault. 

If Les Miles learned anything from the two meetings between the two schools last season, it's that he can't rely solely on his athletes to topple the Tide. And the ultra-conservative approach that he has utilized this season will only go as far as his quarterback will take him.

So, what does that mean for this weekend? It means that Miles will have to revert back to the "Mad Hatter" persona that made him a lightning rod during the first few years of his LSU coaching career. LSU has to take more chances, and letting Mettenberger loose in the passing game is priority No. 1.

If LSU doesn't do that willingly, Alabama will force it to, because you know head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart are going to load up against the run and force Mettenberger to beat them anyway.

You've read the analysis, you've listened to the talking heads and you've examined the depth charts.

But Saturday night in Death Valley, the weight of Tiger Nation will be on Mettenberger's shoulders. If he can handle that pressure, LSU has a chance to win. If he can't, it's going to be a long night in Death Valley.