2015 NFL DRAFT

2014 NFL Draft: Alabama's McCarron outduels LSU's Mettenberger

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

The 2013 version of Alabama-LSU wasn't the defense-dominated slugfest we've come to expect. Alabama's 38-17 victory combined for the most points (55) since 2007. It was just the fifth time since 1983 the final score in this rivalry combined for more than 50 points.

In fact, led by senior quarterbacks Zach Mettenberger and AJ McCarron, Bryant-Denny Stadium was positively awash in playmakers.

McCarron played with the steady accuracy and composure that has characterized his historic career with the Crimson Tide. He may not have the flashy numbers (14/20 for 179 yards and three touchdowns) to actually win the Heisman Trophy but he looks like a shoo-in to finish higher than fifth place -- the highest any Alabama quarterback has ever finished.

Frankly, NFL scouts probably couldn't care less about McCarron's Heisman chances. They likely were instead noting the poise McCarron demonstrated on the big stage, as well as decision-making and easily caught passes that helped guide the Tide to the victory.

McCarron was aided by true freshman tight end O.J. Howard and two super-sophomores in wide receiver Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon, each of whom possess the exciting traits to have already captured scouts' imagination but are not yet eligible for an early jump to the NFL.

Virtually all of LSU's playmakers, on the other hand, are at least three years removed from high school, making Saturday night's showdown against Nick Saban's defense as important a test as any collegiate game they'll ever play.

Mettenberger's numbers were comparable to McCarron in every way except the one that mattered most. While LSU's senior completed more passes for more yardage (16/23 for 241 yards), he only threw one touchdown.

Frankly, Mettenberger's performance Saturday night was a microcosm of his career with the Tigers. More than any other quarterback in this class, Mettenberger is willing to make risky throws. He isn't afraid to throw the ball into coverage in large part because he possesses the velocity and accuracy to fit it through tight windows. This is true not only on passes in which Mettenberger must drive the ball but also when using touch to loft it over defenders, as was the case on a 45-yard bomb to Jarvis Landry on LSU's first drive of the night.

While Mettenberger made several NFL-caliber throws on the night, he was very fortunate that usually-reliable defenders C.J. Mosley and Deion Belue dropped potential interceptions in which the LSU senior attempted to force passes.

McCarron is often labeled as a game-manager because of his willingness to take check down options. At times, Mettenberger would have been better served taking a page from his foe's strategy as his questionable situational awareness led to problems for the Tigers.

This was nowhere more obvious than when Mettenberger attempted a rather desperate wheel route into the end zone to Landry on 4th down with 9:10 remaining in the fourth quarter. Mettenberger appeared to make a pre-determined throw, ignoring other receivers breaking open who could have at least earned the Tigers another set of downs.

Quarterbacks always get the limelight but LSU's wideouts Landry and Odell Beckham each flashed the traits to earn high draft consideration, themselves.

Beckham entered the game leading the SEC with an average of 207.3 all-purpose yards per contest. Though he only caught three passes for 42 yards against the Tide Saturday night, a dazzling 82-yard kick return in the fourth quarter showcased the junior's remarkable vision, agility and acceleration.

While Beckham is the big play specialist, Landry is the more polished route-runner and reliable receiver.

One relatively simple play from Landry demonstrated his reliability. Dragging across the middle, he reached out to pluck a slightly-underthrown ball from Mettenberger, paused to allow linebacker Trey DePriest to slip past him and accelerated to gain a first down late in the third quarter.

With Alabama out-scoring LSU 21-3 in the second half, Tigers' running back Jeremy Hill had little opportunity to boost his stock in this contest but the 6-foot-2, 235-pound second-year star showed off his power and surprisingly nimble feet.

 
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