Will Zach Mettenberger Finish as the Best LSU QB of the Les Miles Era?

Carter Bryant@carterthepowerContributor IOctober 7, 2013

Sep 21, 2013; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger (8) under center against the Auburn Tigers during the first quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Not even Congress could shut down Zach Mettenberger in 2013.

Mettenberger has been historically good this season, leading the Tigers to a 5-1 record. His performance could be the biggest surprise in the SEC. 

Through six games, Mettenberger has thrown for 1,738 yards, 15 touchdowns and only two interceptions in a pro-style offense. He leads the country in passing plays over 20 yards, per LSU Associate Sports Information Director Bill Martin, and the SEC in quarterback rating.

Receiver Jarvis Landry has 616 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this season.
Receiver Jarvis Landry has 616 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this season.Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

The stats present a strong case for Mettenberger as college football's best quarterback at this point in the season.

But like any great quarterback, he has had plenty of help.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has shaped Mettenberger into one of the best signal-callers in the country and a fascinating NFL prospect. Mettenberger also throws to the best receiving duo in college football. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Both rank nationally in the top 10 in receiving yards and touchdowns. 

LSU's dynamic receiving duo would be wasted talent if not for Mettenberger. Beckham Jr. believes his signal-caller should be getting more love for the nation's most prestigious trophy:

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Mettenberger's performance goes beyond the statistics, too. 

Four of LSU's first six opponents were against BCS conference schools. LSU did not have a running game against TCU or Georgia, but Mettenberger still threw the ball with pinpoint precision. 

The rushing numbers against the Horned Frogs looked pretty, but were inflated because Mettenberger's ability to pass was the main reason LSU ran the ball successfully. He still threw the ball perfectly despite the TCU secondary blanketing his targets

The Tigers only finished with a paltry 77 yards rushing against the Bulldogs, yet Mettenberger still finished with a career-high 372 yards in a losing effort. The game featured clutch throws from the senior, including a massive conversion on 3rd-and-a-mile.  

LSU's offensive line has also been spotty in both the running and passing game; Mettenberger has been sacked 11 times. Yet his ability to deliver the ball quickly and in rhythm has helped out tremendously.  

Jamarcus Russell was known for his rocket arm and big-play ability while at LSU.
Jamarcus Russell was known for his rocket arm and big-play ability while at LSU.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

But is Mettenberger on pace to have the best season ever for a LSU quarterback under Miles? 

Mettenberger, Jamarcus Russell, Matt Flynn, Ryan Perrilloux, Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson have been the only quarterbacks to throw at least 50 passes under Miles.

Perrilloux was the most highly touted and complete quarterback of the bunch. He played a critical role on the 2007 national-championship team. But due to his off-the-field problems, he was never able to have a full season as a starter. 

Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson split snaps throughout their career when they took over the reigns from Perrilloux. Lee and Jefferson both had unbelievable games to go along with forgettable mistakes. Both had their strongest seasons as seniors on the undefeated 2011 team. 

But the two quarterbacks Mettenberger will have to overcome are Russell in 2006 and Flynn in 2007. Here are their statistics through six games:

It is evident Flynn was not as prolific a passer as Russell or Mettenberger. But Flynn's career should never be characterized by numbers. He will always be remembered for his clutch throws and game-winning drives.

So as of right now, Russell has had the greatest single-season for an LSU quarterback during the Miles era. 

Notice how similar Mettenberger and Russell are in completions and attempts. Plus, their schedules through six games both consisted of four BCS conference schools. 

The major difference has been the yardage and touchdowns. Mettenberger has done a great job of driving the football down the field. As previously mentioned, he leads the country in completions over 20 yards by a considerable margin. Landry and Beckham Jr. have also done a superb job of yards after the catch. 

Mettenberger's numbers have also been aided by LSU's putrid defense. Because the Tigers have given up so many points, the need to score remains a pressing one for the offense. He has been in a shootout in his last two games against Georgia and Mississippi State.

Russell and Flynn were both better closing the season than starting it. If Mettenberger were to do the same, he will certainly be in New York City in early December: 

Mettenberger's projected numbers would certainly break numerous LSU records. He would finish with more touchdowns, yards and a higher completion percentage than Russell.

The above projection does not include the statistics Mettenberger will accumulate for a bowl game. Russell's final numbers include his shredding of Notre Dame in the 2007 Sugar Bowl.

If Landry and Beckham Jr. remain healthy, Mettenberger should have no problem eclipsing Russell's stellar stats. Mettenberger would also be greatly aided if other receivers and tight ends step up. 

Yet it is inevitable Mettenberger does take, at the very least, a minor setback at some point. 

Mettenberger's white-hot play is unsustainable. Even Johnny Football had off games during his record-breaking Heisman run last season against Florida and LSU. 

Like Manziel, Mettenberger had a rough game against Florida last season. The Gators have not allowed more than 20 points in 12 straight games against SEC opposition. 

LSU will welcome Florida next week, which has the SEC's best team defense in every statistical category. The Gators have corners who could give Beckham Jr. and Landry fits.

The defensive line could also rough up Mettenberger. Florida runs a 3-4, a front which the LSU offensive line struggled blocking against Georgia. The Tigers gave up four sacks, including a crucial one on LSU's final drive. 

LSU has to play an improved Ole Miss defense the week after on the road. The Tigers also have to travel to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama. Nick Saban watched Mettenberger throw for a season-high 298 yards against the Crimson Tide in Baton Rouge, so he could have a better plan this time around.

Mettenberger will struggle eventually. All quarterbacks do. The LSU offense has gotten off to a fast start in every game they have played. It is how Mettenberger handles adversity when they start slow that will ultimately define him as a quarterback. 

Nevertheless, Mettenberger will still have success through the air. The senior has a great running game with Jeremy Hill to help set up play-action against the tough opponents who lie ahead. 

Mettenberger will finish with the best single-season statistics of any LSU quarterback under Miles. If he is able to lead LSU to the SEC Championship Game, he will unquestionably be the best quarterback Miles has ever had in Baton Rouge.  

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