Mettenberger vs. Murray tops SEC QB matchups

Ben Cook

September 26, 2013 at 11:41 am.

Zach Mettenberger and his LSU teammates go on the road to take on Georgia Saturday. (Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

There will be some pretty good quarterback battles in the Southeastern Conference this weekend — AJ McCarron vs. Bo Wallace in the Alabama-Ole Miss game, Connor Shaw vs. Blake Bortles in the South Carolina-UCF game — but the headliner will take place in Athens, Ga.

That’s where two of the nation’s best will square off when LSU’s Zach Mettenberger goes up against Georgia’s Aaron Murray.

Murray is leading the SEC in passing with 1,040 yards and seven touchdowns against two interceptions and is completing passes at a 72 percent clip. Mettenberger is fourth in the league with 1,026 yards and 10 touchdowns — with one interception — and carries a completion percentage of 64 percent.

This will be a homecoming of sorts for Mettenberger, who started his career at Georgia at the same time as Murray and envisioned himself quarterbacking the Bulldogs Between the Hedges. But before his career got off the ground, he ran into discipline problems and was dismissed from the program.

“We thought both of them were very, very talented,” said Georgia Mark Richt.” Even when they both committed to come to Georgia and signed at Georgia, we knew we were very blessed to have two guys that we thought were going to be really good. As they began to compete, I thought it was very close. I think Murray was a little bit more polished, in that he was in a high school system that was maybe closer to what we’re doing.

“I think every year of Zach’s life, he was with a different coordinator in a different system, at least from high school to college, and even this year. I don’t know if he’s gone two years in a row with the same offensive coordinator. Zach had some catching up to do in some of those finer points, but his talent was obviously very evident.

“So both of those guys we felt like we could win with at Georgia, and as it turns out, they’re both getting their opportunity to lead teams in this league and playing a game like this at the same time.”

Mettenberger’s problems at Georgia had more to do with himself than the battle with Murray.

“It was very difficult,” said Richt of Mettenberger’s dismissal. “It’s difficult any time a situation gets to the point where you have to dismiss a guy from the team. To do it to Zach, knowing Zach for as long as we’ve known him and his mom and dad – they’re family to us. They’re still family to the Georgia program, so it was very difficult. I think he understood. It wasn’t easy for me, and it wasn’t easy for him. I’m proud of how he responded to it. He went to junior college and did extremely well, and he got an opportunity to come back and go to a place like LSU, which is a tribute to him and how he’s put himself in tremendous position for his future.”

“Zach has gotten better and better every year,” Murray said of the LSU quarterback. “They’re very similar to us offensively in that they’re able to pound, pound, pound, get up there, throw the ball, move it through the air with some great receivers as well, so it’s going to be a huge challenge for us defensively.”

Murray’s career has been spectacular. He’s the nation’s active leader in total yards (11,352), completions (755), touchdowns responsible for (113), touchdown passes (102) and passing yards (11,131).

“I don’t think you rattle a guy like that,” LSU coach Les Miles said of Murray. “I don’t think that’s necessarily the thought process. You pressure him with coverage and disguise … but to rattle him, yeah, that’s not something that’s in the plan.”

Both teams will bring huge ground games into this meeting. Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are the workhorses, but backups Quayvon Hicks and J. J. Green have averaged 8.4 and 11.8 yards per rush in limited duty. LSU counters with Jeremy Hill, Terrence Magee, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard.

“I mentioned theirs, and we have ours, and it will be interesting to see who can run the ball and who can run it well,” said Richt. “Both teams are very capable of it, but on any given Saturday, you don’t know what’s going to happen. We like ours and I’m sure they like theirs, and I like theirs and they probably like ours. They’re just great players, and it’s going to be fun to watch.’

With such high-powered offenses this one might come down to who does the best job on the defensive side of the football.

“All we can do is what we can do, and that’s to give them the plan, line them up and play hard and fast,” said Richt. “Hopefully we can continue to get better at tackling and communicating and all that.”

“Defensively we’re improving,” said Miles. “We got some young guys out there taking a lot of snaps. We forced three takeaways. The two linebackers, both [D.J.] Welter and {Lamin] Barrow, had 11 tackles each. It was nice to see Craig Loston back in the lineup. I think out backers played well.

“Really think that the job that Mark Richt has done in his time there is just exemplary. It’s really a tribute to him and Georgia what they’ve got accomplished. They’re a quality team, do things right.

“You choose to come to LSU to look forward to playing in a game Between the Hedges, nationally ranked. Our guys are looking forward to it; know it’s going to be a great environment; been there before. We’ll do our part to prepare to give us all a great game.

“We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun. We’ve been there before. We certainly recognize the venue. We’ll look forward to competing against the best,” Mile said.