LSU QB Zach Mettenberger helps draft stock despite loss to Georgia

The build-up of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger's return to Georgia dominated the buzz surrounding Saturday's marquee matchup of SEC powerhouses.

Rather than shirk from the spotlight, Mettenberger shined. Even after his Tigers lost 44-41 Saturday to Aaron Murray and the Bulldogs, Mettenberger should understand that talent evaluators will find little fault in his individual performance. 

Murray justifiably was named the Player of the Game. He guided his team to the win while tossing four TD passes. While Murray deserves credit for finding them, many critical throws were to wide open receivers. LSU's secondary is talented, as always, but they're also quite inexperienced and breakdowns aided Georgia's recovery from a leg injury that knocked superstar sophomore Todd Gurley out of the game in the second quarter.

By comparison, Mettenberger attempted and completed the more difficult throws Saturday.  The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Mettenberger consistently threw his receivers open, especially on deep in-cutting routes, showing off terrific ball-placement and velocity on NFL-caliber passes.

Mettenberger was unable to guide LSU to the win, turning it over on downs on his final possession, but LSU remained in this game until the closing seconds because of his ability to complete clutch throws over the middle. 

Mettenberger was masterful most of this game, completing 23 of 37 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns -- and no interceptions.

A few of Mettenberger's most beautiful throws came at critical moments as the game see-sawed back and forth in the second half. 

One was a 39-yard touchdown strike on a third-and-9 to tie the score with 6:42 remaining in the third quarter. With a pocket tightening, Mettenberger looked like a young Ben Roethlisberger by calmly standing tall in the pocket and firing a strike to Jarvis Landry.

He put the Tigers in position to tie the score twice in the fourth quarter with two more perfectly placed throws over the middle, including another to Landry between three Georgia defenders. 

Considering the hype that accompanied Mettenberger in 2012, his first season as LSU's starter, he's been perceived as a bit of a disappointment. In reality, Mettenberger's play steadily improved last year and it has taken off this year under former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Including Saturday's effort, Mettenberger is completing 64 percent of his passes for 1,398 yards and 13 touchdowns against only one interception.

Mettenberger, like Roethlisberger, is so big and strong in the pocket, that he's able to remain standing and complete passes with defenders grabbing at him. Also like Roethlisberger, however, Mettenberger isn't an elite athlete and is most effective in the pocket. Some teams are becoming less interested in traditional pocket passers as the game appears to be shifting towards dual-threat quarterbacks.

Scouts will give each quarterback credit for playing well in such a high-pressure game. Not only was this key SEC matchup the week's only contest between top-10 teams, the two passers faced additional scrutiny because Mettenberger began his career at Georgia. He and Murray were roommates competing for the starting job before Mettenberger was released by Georgia after an incident at a Remerton, Ga., bar March 7, 2010, that will require closer investigation by any NFL team considering making him an early pick in the 2014 draft.

If his breakout senior campaign continues, it could be very early pick, indeed.   

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