Zach Mettenberger inherited the job of starting quarterback at LSU with great fan fare, billed as an upgrade from the Jordan Jefferson-Jarrett Lee combo that led the Tigers to the BCS title game last season.
Just in time for the Alabama game, Mettenberger seemingly arrived.
The junior quarterback connected on 24 of 35 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown, outdueling dark horse Heisman Trophy hopeful A.J. McCarron and nearly leading the fifth-ranked Tigers to an upset of No. 1 Alabama.
A late touchdown gave the Crimson Tide a 21-17 lead to keep alive Alabama’s hopes of a repeat national championship.
“As well as I played, I would’ve traded three interceptions for the win tonight,” Mettenberger said.
There’s no denying Mettenberger played well.
He threw for more yards against the vaunted Crimson Tide defense of any quarterback since Ryan Mallet of Arkansas two seasons ago. No quarterback this season had touched the Alabama defense for more than 200 yards.
To find an LSU quarterback with a more productive outing, you have to go all the way back to 2007, when Matt Flynn threw for 353 yards in a win over Alabama.
“I was thrilled with the way Zach Mettenberger played,” coach Les Miles said. “He made all the passes, and he was competitive and fought.”
Mettenberger, dubbed the “Mettsiah” by LSU fans, had struggled to match the great hype surrounding him through the first eight games of the season.
Saturday, in the biggest game of LSU’s season, he looked almighty.
“I saw him throw it,” Miles said. “Just uncork it and let it ride.”
Mettenberger did much of his damage in the second half, leading LSU back from a 14-3 deficit with a pair of touchdown-scoring drives filled with third-down conversions.
LSU had struggled to move the chains much of the season, but Saturday converted 10 of 20 times on third down.
Mettenberger gave LSU its only lead when he stepped back in the pocket and lofted a jump ball to Jarvis Landry, who leaped above an Alabama defender to put the Tigers ahead 17-14 on a 14-yard catch with 12:58 to play.
After the score, Mettenberger motioned to Alabama fans as if talking on the phone.
Mettenberger said his cell phone number got out and that he received calls during the week from the Bama faithful. He said he stopped answering the phone three days before the game.
With a chance for LSU to knock off the nation’s top team and put itself squarely in the BCS title chase, Mettenberger fell just short of leading LSU to victory.
But when the Tigers needed him most, he certainly answered the call.
“We played with confidence tonight,” Mettenberger said. “We executed well and didn’t make a lot of mistakes.”