There was a time this season in which teams looked forward to having their defenses go up against LSU junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger. That time, it’s safe to say, has come and gone.
Mettenberger threw for 298 yards and a touchdown in a heartbreaking loss to Alabama two weeks ago and followed that up by tossing two touchdowns and 273 passing yards in a win against Mississippi State this past weekend.
His performance against Alabama, his best of the season, was preceded by a rock-bottom game on the road against Texas A&M. The Aggies held Mettenberger to 97 yards passing, and he completed just 11-of-29 passes.
His turnaround in the two games after the debacle against the Aggies has been swift and has coincided with an increased level of confidence that occurred thanks to his performance against the Crimson Tide, according to Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack.
“The last two weeks, from the Alabama game and then last week, he looked a lot sharper,” Wommack said. “He looked just like he got his confidence. Good timing, huh?
“I don’t think they changed much (of the game plan). We’ve got all their breakdowns and stuff of games before that; there’s no difference. I think he just came into his own; reading stuff better.”
With a depleted secondary and a defense that has been very susceptible to the pass in recent weeks, a confident quarterback like Mettenberger is something that makes Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze worry.
“I think anytime a quarterback gets confidence, it makes for a dangerous situation,” Freeze said. “He’s got athletic receivers that can beat you in a one-on-one setting, and they force you to be in some one-on-ones with their power game.
“We’re going to be caught in that position again, where we have to win some one-on-ones and, hopefully, eliminate the big play when they do throw it.”
Besides winning one-on-ones in the defense backfield, the Rebels know that their defense must put pressure on Mettenberger.
Generating a pass rush against the Tigers is possible, as LSU is ranked 83rd in the country with 22 sacks allowed. Alabama got to Mettenberger three times, while Mississippi State tacked on a sack to go along with a quarterback hurry.
“We’ve definitely got to get to him early coming off that game against Alabama,” redshirt freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche said. “The balls he was throwing, the passes he was making; he definitely got some confidence from that game. “We’ve just got to get after him early, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
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