Stats & Info: Zach Mettenberger

Mariota, Kelly, McCoy among best of week

October, 15, 2013
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Week 7 featured upsets and surprises as seven ranked teams lost on Saturday, with four of those losses at the hands of unranked opponents.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information will look back at some of these upsets and look ahead to next weekend’s matchup between Florida State and Clemson.

Best individual performances

Marcus Mariota had a 98.3 opponent-adjusted Total QBR in Oregon’s 45-24 win at Washington. Mariota was responsible for 454 total yards and four touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter. He leads the nation in opponent-adjusted Total QBR (97.0) this season and has posted an opponent-adjusted Total QBR of 98 or higher in three of six games.

Taylor Kelly posted a career-high 98.1 opponent-adjusted Total QBR in Arizona State’s 54-13 win against Colorado. Seven of Kelly’s nine completions gained at least 15 yards as he averaged a career-high 25.9 yards per completion.

Case McCoy had a 90.3 opponent-adjusted Total QBR in Texas’s 36-20 win against Oklahoma, his highest in a qualified game in his career (a player must have at least 20 action plays in order for it to be a qualified game).

McCoy completed 13-of-19 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns in the first three quarters.

Other interesting Total QBRs

Zach Mettenberger’s QBR (46.7 Total QBR): Mettenberger completed 9-of-17 passes for 152 yards against Florida, including four completions of at least 20 yards. Mettenberger finished with a 46.7 Total QBR.

But that measure doesn't tell the whole story.

When accounting for the defense that he faced, Mettenberger's opponent-adjusted Total QBR jumped to 88.9, ninth-best in Week 7.

Entering the game, the Gators had allowed the lowest Total QBR (13.0) of any defense, and their opponents had completed 46 percent of their passes. Mettenberger's performance was significantly better than those who faced the Gators earlier this season.

Bryce Petty’s QBR (69.0 Total QBR): Petty had the highest pass efficiency rating (237.1) of Week 7 in Baylor’s win against Kansas State, but he ranked 31st in Total QBR.

Why?

Petty had seven dropbacks on third down, but failed to convert a first down on any of those dropbacks. It is important to note that Petty had two completions for 19 yards on third down, but neither of those completions resulted in a first down, which is accounted for in Total QBR.

For a full list of Total QBR leaders for the season and Week 7, click here.

Best team performances

Offense –- Oregon: The Ducks gained 631 yards and added 24.3 expected points on offense in their 45-24 win against No. 16 Washington. Entering the game, the Huskies had allowed 286.8 yards per game, and no opponent's offense had contributed more than five expected points to their team's net scoring margin. In the last two seasons, Oregon’s offense has a +49.4 offensive EPA against the Huskies and the Ducks have won by a combined 52 points in those games.

Defense –- Texas: The Longhorns’ defense added 17 expected points toward its scoring margin against Oklahoma by forcing turnovers, controlling field position and limiting the Sooners to one offensive touchdown.

It was the Longhorns’ highest defensive EPA in a game against a BCS-AQ team since they added 24.4 against California in the 2011 Holiday Bowl. Texas entered the game with the second-worst defensive EPA (-13.78) in the Big 12 behind Iowa State (-13.8).

Special teams –- Iowa State: The Cyclones contributed 16.3 expected points on special teams in their 42-35 loss at Texas Tech, the most by a team in a game this season.

That means that if Iowa State’s special teams unit had an average game, the Cyclones would have lost by about 23 points. In addition to a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown in the first quarter, Iowa State began its drives 11.2 yards closer to the goal line than Texas Tech did.

Looking ahead to Week 8

Florida State travels to Clemson (8 PM ET, ABC) in a top-5 matchup with conference and national title implications.

The game features two of the top quarterbacks in the nation; Florida State’s Jameis Winston ranks fourth in opponent-adjusted Total QBR (91.3) this season, and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd finished with the fourth-highest opponent-adjusted Total QBR (81.8) last season.

A major component of success for each quarterback has been the deep ball. Winston is completing 68.3 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer, best among BCS AQ quarterbacks (min. 15 attempts), and Boyd leads all AQ quarterbacks with 10 touchdowns on passes of that distance.

Florida State and Clemson both rank in the Top 10 in defensive EPA on passing plays, so it will be a battle of strengths in Death Valley on Saturday.

Elite QBs living up to top billing

October, 6, 2013
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AP Photo/Rod AydelotteBaylor’s Bryce Petty is one of many QBs who lived up to high expectations in Week 6.
Below are some storylines from Week 6 of the college football season using ESPN’s new set of analytical storytelling metrics for college football. For more background on these metrics, read Dean Oliver’s primer on all of them and his explanation of college Total QBR. For complete college Total QBR information, go here.

Top QBs continue success on Saturday

The top four players in Total QBR entering the day on Saturday lived up to expectations. All four players posted a Total QBR of at least 90 while leading their teams to dominant victories.


Below is a breakdown of these top performances:

• Bryce Petty posted a 97.1 Total QBR in Baylor’s 73-42 win over West Virginia, his fourth straight game with a Total QBR of at least 93. Petty has thrown for at least 300 yards, two touchdowns and averaged 13 yards per attempt in every game this season.

• Marcus Mariota was responsible for a career-high seven touchdowns as he led the Ducks to a 57-16 victory against Colorado. Mariota has posted a Total QBR of 90 or more in four of five games this season.

• Teddy Bridgewater posted his fifth straight game with a Total QBR of 80 or higher in Louisville’s 30-7 win over Temple. Bridgewater was 15-of-17 for 228 yards in the first half and did not have a Total QBR lower than 94 after the Cardinals’ first drive.

• Jameis Winston threw for a career-high 393 yards and five touchdowns against Maryland. Winston had seven completions of 20 yards or longer, including two 21-yard touchdown passes. He now has 27 completions of at least 20 yards, fifth most in the FBS.

Other Notable QBs:

• AJ McCarron posted a 97.0 Total QBR in fewer than two quarters against Georgia State. McCarron completed 15-of-16 passes, including his first 12 attempts. Overall, 12 of his 16 attempts (75%) went for a first down or touchdown, the highest percentage by a quarterback in a game this season.

• Tajh Boyd had a season-high 94.0 Total QBR in Clemson’s 49-14 win over Syracuse. Boyd threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns in the first half, the most yards by an ACC player in the last 10 seasons. Despite taking three sacks, Boyd posted a 96.5 Total QBR in the first half.

• Zach Mettenberger completed 86% of his passes and posted a 92.1 Total QBR in LSU’s 59-26 win against Mississippi State. Mettenberger now has a 88.6 Total QBR through six games in 2013 after having a 27.2 Total QBR through his first six games of last season.

• Aaron Murray had an 84.7 Total QBR in Georgia’s come-from-behind victory over Tennessee. Murray was 5-of-9 with a touchdown on Georgia’s final drive. Murray has a 96.5 Total QBR when trailing this season, highest in the FBS (min 20 action plays).

Murray, Georgia too much for LSU

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
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Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesAaron Murray and Georgia had a lot to celebrate about in the Bulldogs' 44-41 win over LSU Saturday.
If the South Carolina win three weeks ago didn’t quiet the critics who said Aaron Murray couldn’t win big games they’re certainly silent now.

Led by another big performance from Murray, the ninth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs rallied to beat sixth-ranked LSU Tigers in a 44-41 thriller Saturday. It was Georgia’s second win in three tries against a Top-10 team this season (No. 6 South Carolina on September 7).

This is the first time in Georgia history it has defeated two AP-ranked teams in a season before October 1st. Georgia is the fifth team in the last 15 years to defeat two Top-10 teams prior to October, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The last, prior to Georgia, was Alabama in 2008.

Murray comes up big
After winning only one of his first seven games against Top-10 teams, Murray has now won two straight.

The senior QB had a hand in all five of Georgia’s touchdowns Saturday, throwing for four and adding another on the ground. His five TD responsible for ties his career high.

It was a big improvement over his 2011 performance against LSU, in which he completed only 16 of 40 passes for 163 yards with one TD and two interceptions.

The key for Murray Saturday was his accuracy down the field. He completed 7-of-11 passes thrown 15 yards or longer, including three touchdowns. It is the most completions (7) and touchdowns (3) LSU has allowed on such throws over the last 3 seasons. In 2011 against LSU, Murray was only 1-of-11 on throws 15+ yards downfield.

Murray now has eight TD passes in his last two games against Top-10 teams, matching his total for his first seven such games combined.

He also passed Eric Zeier, Peyton Manning and Chris Leak on the SEC career passing yardage list, now trailing only fellow Georgia QB David Greene by 99 yards.

Mettenberger’s homecoming
On the other side, LSU QB Zach Mettenberger didn’t disappoint in his Georgia homecoming. Mettenberger is from Watkinsville, GA (15 minute drive south of Athens) and originally enrolled at Georgia before being dismissed.

He threw for a career-high 372 yards and three TD, showing continued improvement from his junior season. After posting a 39.3 Total QBR last season, which ranked 98th out of 122 qualified FBS quarterbacks, Mettenberger has a 87.6 Total QBR this season (86.0 on Saturday). No FBS quarterback entered Saturday with a bigger increase in Total QBR from 2012 to 2013.

Rare defensive letdown for LSU
LSU allowed 44 points in defeat Saturday after going 63 straight games without allowing 40 points in a game. That was by far the longest active streak in FBS.

Entering Saturday, LSU was one of only eight FBS teams which hadn’t trailed this season but that ended with Georgia’s first TD.

Brett Smith most dominant QB in Week 4

September, 24, 2013
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With only one ranked matchup, the Week 4 slate of underdogs did not provide much competition for the favorite. Top 25 teams were 18-0 against unranked opponents, and the average margin of victory in those games was over five touchdowns.

Four teams highlighted the day of dominant offensive performances. Ohio State, Louisville, Miami and Baylor each scored at least 70 points, the most in a single day since the BCS' inception in 1998. Three of those four teams had a win probability of at least 95 percent by the start of the second quarter, and all four were up by at least 38 points by halftime.

Which of these offensive performances was the most impressive? Which quarterback contributed most to his team’s offensive efficiency? With the help of ESPN’s new CFB metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information will look back on Week 4 and look ahead to next weekend’s top 10 matchup between No. 6 LSU and No. 9 Georgia.

Best Individual Performances
Brett Smith (99.0 Total QBR) had a school-record 511 total yards in Wyoming’s 56-23 win over Air Force on Saturday. His biggest contribution came on the ground, as he ran for 138 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. As a result, Smith contributed more expected points from rushing (9.4) than any other quarterback in Week 4.

Terrel Hunt (98.6 Total QBR) posted the highest Total QBR by a Syracuse starter in the last 10 seasons in the Orange’s 52-17 win over Tulane. Hunt has a 98.9 Total QBR and has completed 76.7 percent of his passes this season, compared to a 20.9 Total QBR and 57.4 completion percentage for Syracuse’s starter from its first two games, Drew Allen.

Bryce Petty (98.5 Total QBR) of Baylor currently leads the nation in Total QBR this season (98.4). Against Louisiana-Monroe, Petty posted his third straight Total QBR of 93 or above. The only other player in the country with three straight games of 93-plus is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Tyler MurphyTyler Murphy (98.1 Total QBR) was called into action early in the first quarter when Florida QB Jeff Driskel broke his leg. Murphy posted a 98.1 Total QBR on 24 action plays, which was the highest Total QBR by a Florida quarterback since Tim Tebow had a 98.9 against Vanderbilt in 2008.

Explaining Murphy’s QBR: At first glance, Tyler Murphy had a fairly average statline; he completed 57 percent of his passes for 134 yards and a touchdown. However, Murphy also contributed 84 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground. He was nearly perfect on third downs, converting eight of his 12 third-down chances, including five first-down rushes of at least seven yards.

Best Team Performances
Offense –- Ohio State’s offense contributed 47 net points towards its 76-0 victory over Florida A&M. Although the Rattlers are not the most formidable opponent, Ohio State’s had the highest single-game offensive EPA this season and the fifth-highest single-game offensive EPA in the last three seasons. Efficiency is key; Ohio State scored a touchdown on 11 of its 13 drives on Saturday.

Defense –- Baylor is not typically known for its defense, but the Bears lead the country in defensive EPA this season. On Saturday, Baylor’s defense contributed a FBS-high 35.4 expected points towards its 63-point victory over Louisiana-Monroe (70-7) after forcing four turnovers, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the first quarter. Overall, Baylor has scored 73 points off turnovers this season, second in FBS behind Northwestern.

Special Teams – Iowa scored its most points since 2002 (59) against Western Michigan on Saturday, and 14 of those points were directly related to special teams. Junior returner Kevonte Martin-Manley returned two consecutive Western Michigan punts for touchdowns early in the second quarter. Iowa scored as many touchdowns on offense (4) as its defense and specials teams had combined on Saturday.

Looking ahead to Week 5
After a weak slate of games last weekend, Week 5 has four matchups of ranked opponents, including one matchup of top 10 teams. No. 6 LSU travels to No. 9 Georgia in a game that will match two of the most improved offenses in the country.

LSU ranks 16th in offensive EPA per game this season after ranking 68th last season. The biggest difference has been QB Zach Mettenberger, who has nearly tripled his Total QBR from last season.

His 49-point increase from last season to this season is the largest of any qualified quarterback in the nation.

Similarly, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray raised his Total QBR from 73.0 in 2012 to 84.3 in in 2013. His best game of the season came against South Carolina, a team that he was winless against until this season.

Murray will look to avenge his past meeting with LSU, a 42-10 loss in the 2011 SEC Championship game. In that game he threw two interceptions and posted his third-lowest Total QBR (17.3) of his career.

Mettenberger aces chemistry class -- so far

September, 20, 2013
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Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesZach Mettenberger has been highly successful through three games in 2013.
After struggling much of last season, Zach Mettenberger might be the most improved quarterback in the nation this year as he enters Saturday's SEC opener against Auburn (7:45 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Mettenberger has been playing at a consistently high level this season. In his previous two seasons, he never had three straight games with a raw QBR (unadjusted for opponent) over 50. This season, he’s started with three straight games over 70.

He is the only Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback to increase his QBR by at least 50 points from 2012 to 2013 (39.3 to 91.6).

Mettenberger’s chemistry with top receivers
His recent success can be directly attributed to a better rapport with receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The two have been targeted on 62 percent of Mettenberger’s passes and have caught all nine of LSU’s touchdown passes after combining for seven last season.

Mettenberger has emerged as one of the top deep passers this season, thanks to his improved accuracy when targeting Beckham and Landry on long throws.

His average of 11.6 yards per attempt is fifth in the nation and 4.2 more yards than last season. In addition, his seven touchdown passes of 20-plus yards are the most in the FBS.

This season, Mettenberger has completed 12 of 19 passes traveling more than 15 yards to Beckham and Landry, a significant increase from his completion rate of 41 percent to them last year.

The improved chemistry with his top receivers has also manifested itself on third down. Mettenberger has increased his third-down conversion rate through the air from 36 percent in 2012 to 57 percent this year.

He’s been even better when targeting Beckham and Landry, who have caught all nine third-down pass attempts thrown to them for first downs.

In LSU’s opener against TCU, Beckham and Landry converted five third downs into first downs through the air, including Landry’s 20-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that sealed the win.

Mettenberger should be able to continue his third-down success against Auburn this weekend. The Tigers have struggled to defend the pass on third down, ranking 11th in the SEC in opponent QBR and 12th in completion rate this season.

What he must do better against Auburn
Mettenberger played one of his worst games last year against the Tigers, who had the second-worst total defense in the SEC.

He was the only SEC quarterback with a QBR below 50 against Auburn last season and had more turnovers (2) than touchdowns (0). His QBR of 17.7 was his second worst in any of his 18 career games.

Mettenberger struggled to find Beckham and Landry, who combined for five catches for 38 yards on 11 targets. The duo didn’t have a catch of more than nine yards, as all three deep throws intended for the two fell incomplete.

Mettenberger was not much better on third down in that game. He missed Landry on all three third-down pass attempts (Beckham wasn’t targeted) while committing two key fumbles, including one on the Auburn 2-yard line.

One area in which Mettenberger can exploit Auburn is against the blitz. The Tigers have not generated a sack in 31 drop-backs this season when sending five or more rushers.

That’s good news for Mettenberger, who has five touchdown passes when facing five or more rushers, tied for the most among BCS AQ quarterbacks.

How do SEC QBs rate via QBR?

August, 19, 2013
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The SEC opens the 2013 season with six teams ranked in the top 12 of the preseason AP Poll. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida and LSU all have legitimate chances to win an eighth straight BCS National Championship for the SEC.

As recent history suggests, quarterback play is essential to winning the title. Four of the last five quarterbacks to lead their team to a BCS National Championship have ranked in the top eight in Total QBR.

Heading into the 2013 season, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the starting quarterbacks of these six ranked teams from the perspective of ESPN’s new Total QBR metric?

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (90.5 Total QBR – 1st in FBS out of 122 qualified QBs)

Manziel converted a first down on 51.9 percent of his third-down pass attempts last season, best in FBS. He also ran for 28 first downs on third down, including 22 first downs on broken plays. As a result, Manziel led the nation in unadjusted Total QBR on third down (98.6).

In order to repeat his success, Manziel must improve his second-half performance. His unadjusted Total QBR in the first half of games was almost 20 points higher than his unadjusted Total QBR in the second half of games. In Texas A&M’s two losses against LSU and Florida, Manziel had a second-half unadjusted Total QBR of 9.7 and 9.3, respectively.

2. AJ McCarron, Alabama (81.5 Total QBR - 5th in FBS)

McCarron posted an above average QBR (above 50) in all 14 of his games last season. McCarron’s worst game was a 53.1 Total QBR against Georgia in the SEC Championship. Every qualified quarterback had at least one worse game (in terms of QBR) during the season. McCarron threw just three interceptions in 314 attempts, resulting in an FBS-leading 10-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Yet two of McCarron’s interceptions occurred inside of his opponents’ five yard line when the score was within seven points. Each of those interceptions decreased Alabama’s win probability by more than 10 percentage points.

3. Aaron Murray, Georgia (78.2 Total QBR – 13th in FBS)

Georgia gained a first down on 40.4 percent of Murray’s pass attempts last season, which ranked third in FBS. Murray led the nation in yards per attempt (10.1) and percentage of pass attempts that gained at least 20 yards (16.1 percent). His Total QBR rank jumped from 21st in his sophomore season to 13th in his junior season.

The biggest question surrounding Murray is his ability to win games against top-ranked competition. In his career, Murray has faced 14 teams that finished the season ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll. Georgia is 3-11 in those games and Murray had a Total QBR below 60 in seven of those games.

In comparison, Georgia is 25-2 against all other opponents and Murray had a Total QBR below 60 in four of those 27 games.

It is important to note that Total QBR accounts for the strength of the defenses that Murray is facing.

4. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (68.2 Total QBR – 34th in FBS)

South Carolina gained a first down on 39.5 percent of Shaw’s pass attempts last season, which ranked seventh in FBS. In addition to precise passing, Shaw scrambled for 225 yards and 13 first downs when the play broke down.

Shaw must improve his downfield accuracy. Six of his seven interceptions last season came on passes of 20 yards or longer downfield. Additionally, he must improve on the road; Shaw’s had an unadjusted Total QBR of 42.8 in five road or neutral site games compared to an unadjusted Total QBR of 77.7 in six home games last season.

5. Jeff Driskel, Florida (60.4 Total QBR – 46th in FBS)

Driskel gained 470 yards and averaged nine yards per rush on designed running plays. As a result, he added the 16th-most clutch weighted expected points on rushing plays in FBS last season.

However, Driskel was sacked 36 times on just 310 dropbacks (11.6 percent). He lost the second-most clutch weighted expected points as a result of sacks, behind only NC State’s Mike Glennon.

6. Zach Mettenberger, LSU (47.1 Total QBR – 79th in FBS)

Mettenberger’s best game of the season came in LSU’s 21-17 loss to Alabama. He posted a 95.5 Total QBR in that game, which was the second-highest Total QBR allowed by Alabama in the Nick Saban Era (Stephen Garcia 97.3 Total QBR in 2010).

Yet, Mettenberger struggled against the rest of the SEC, completing 52 percent of his passes with as many touchdowns as interception (4) in his seven other conference games. He had a below average (below 50) Total QBR in five of those seven games.

Total QBR measures all quarterback contributions to scoring accounting for game context and adjusted for opponent strength. It is based on a 0-100 scale, and 50 is average. For more information, see the description of the NFL version, which has the same principles as the college version, here

AJ McCarron: Most consistent QB in FBS

August, 9, 2013
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AP Photo/David J. PhillipAJ McCarron and Alabama will attempt to win a third straight BCS title this season.
For the past two national championship seasons, AJ McCarron has been the leading force of the Alabama offense. With McCarron’s steady leadership, the Tide are poised to make a run at a third consecutive national title.

McCarron boasts a 25-2 career record as the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback with 46 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions. Last season, he threw 30 touchdown passes and three interceptions in 314 pass attempts while averaging 9.3 yards per attempt. That 10-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio led the FBS.

And he's done it on the big stage. Two of McCarron’s top four Opponent Adjusted QBR games in his career were in Alabama’s back-to-back BCS Championship victories, in which he posted a 90.3 QBR in 2012 and 95.6 in 2013.

Steady at the helm
Last season, McCarron completed 65.1 percent of his passes thrown 20 yards or more with 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. His completion percentage on such passes is better than other well-known SEC quarterbacks like Aaron Murray, Johnny Manziel and Zach Mettenberger.

McCarron posted an above average QBR (avg.: 50.0) in all 14 games last season. His worst Total QBR was 53.1 against Georgia in the SEC Championship game. Every qualified FBS quarterback had at least one game with a worse performance than that last season.

Opposing defenses attempted to bring extra pressure to neutralize McCarron’s effectiveness. McCarron faced five or more pass rushers in 30 percent of his dropbacks. However, McCarron’s yards per attempt were higher when facing additional pressure (10.6 to 8.8) than when he faced a standard pass rush.

Strong supporting cast
With a strong returning receiving corps, led by last year’s freshman phenom, Amari Cooper, McCarron will look to take on more responsibilities in the offense.

Cooper finished the season strongly after building a rapport with McCarron. Six of his 11 touchdown receptions came in the last five games of the season, including two in the National Championship game against Notre Dame.

Joining Cooper are Kevin Norwood, the second-leading receiver last season, and Chris Black, the 22nd overall prospect in the 2012 recruiting class, according to the ESPN 150.

Room to grow
One area in which he could improve this season is his red-zone efficiency. Two of his three interceptions were in the red zone last season, including the one from the Texas A&M two-yard line in the fourth quarter that ultimately cost the Tide an undefeated season.

So what’s at stake for the quarterback who seemingly has accomplished it all?

Alabama is the No. 1 team in the Preseason USA Today Poll and will strive for an undefeated season -- one thing McCarron has not yet accomplished -- and an unprecedented third consecutive national championship. If McCarron can remain consistent leading the Tide, he could emerge as a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy.

Offensive improvement key for LSU in 2013

April, 11, 2013
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AP Photo/John RaouxLSU's success will be contingent on Zach Mettenberger stepping up in 2013.
With the college basketball season in the books, College Football Live embarks on its Spring Bus Tour, visiting eight schools over the next two weeks. Today we take a trip to check out the LSU Tigers.

Since Les Miles took over as head coach prior to the 2005 season, LSU has been among the winningest programs in the country. The Tigers’ 85 wins under Les Miles are more than any school from a BCS-AQ conference.

But LSU’s 2012 season lost some momentum before it even got started when 2011 Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu was kicked off the team in August.

The Tigers lost to Florida and Alabama during the regular season, failing to hold leads in each game. In the Chick-fil-A Bowl, it was a similar scenario as LSU was outscored 12-0 by Clemson in fourth quarter and lost 25-24.

Looking ahead to 2013
LSU took a bigger hit in terms of underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft than any other school. Eleven Tigers have declared in the hopes of starting their pro careers.

Among the big returnees is quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who threw for 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

Former Baltimore Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron accepted the same position at LSU with hopes of making the offense more dynamic.

In the three seasons in which LSU made the BCS Championship Game (2003, ’07, ’11), the team averaged 36.1 points. In all other seasons since 2003, the Tigers averaged 29.6 points, including 29.8 last season.

On the defensive side, ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery declared for the NFL draft. They were two of the reasons that LSU was able to rush four instead of five and regularly drop seven into pass coverage.

When rushing four, Mingo and Montgomery combined for 37 of the Tigers’ 71 quarterback hurries and 10 sacks, and LSU allowed only seven touchdown passes in 348 attempts.

They said it
"We'll have a different view of the quarterback position now. It will enable us to throw the football more effectively. We'll throw the football down the field more efficiently."
-- Les Miles (looking ahead to 2012 season)

Mettenberger struggled throwing downfield in conference play last season.

He completed less than 33 percent of his passes of 15 yards or longer against SEC opponents and was less efficient than the duo of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee in 2011.

Has LSU's Mettenberger turned the corner?

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
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AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherZach Mettenberger has shown improvement under center lately.
When Zach Mettenberger was named the starting quarterback early in the offseason, LSU fans were hopeful that he would be able to improve a passing game that finished 10th in the SEC in passing in 2011.

However, for most of this season, that hasn’t been the case. While in his first eight games, Mettenberger averaged slightly more yards per game (177.4), he also had more turnovers (7) than Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee had combined last season (6).

Despite those struggles, in the biggest game of his young career last Saturday against Alabama, Mettenberger rose to the occasion.

After completing just 46.2 percent of his passes in his first four SEC games, Mettenberger completed 24 of 35 passes (68.6 percent) for a career-high 298 yards.

He was especially strong in the second half, going 14-of-17 for 206 yards. It had been 31 games since the last time a quarterback threw for 200 yards in a half against Alabama's defense.

The question going forward is whether Mettenberger’s play in the second half is a trend or a fluke. His play on third downs and against the blitz bodes well for future success.

On third downs, Mettenberger converted eight first downs through the air, tying the most allowed by Alabama in the Nick Saban era. Last season, in two meetings, LSU did not convert a single third down through the air against the Crimson Tide, throwing for more interceptions (1) than yards (0).

In Mettenberger’s first four SEC games, he converted just 34.3 percent of his third-down pass attempts into first downs with three turnovers. Against Alabama, he converted 57.1 percent of his passes into first downs, including 85.7 percent in the second half (6-for-7).

Mettenberger also showed marked improvement against the blitz, particularly in the fourth quarter.

Mettenberger was 7-of-8 for 118 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Alabama when the Tide sent at least five pass-rushers. That’s more yards than either he had or Alabama had allowed in those situations in a full game until then.

Mettenberger also completed three passes of at least 20 yards against the blitz, one more than he had in his previous four SEC games combined.

Downfield passing had been another area in which Mettenberger was expected to improve LSU’s offense. In non-conference games, Mettenberger completed 66.7 percent of his passes that travelled at least 15 yards in the air. However, in conference play, Mettenberger is just 6-of-30 on deep passes (20 percent). But in the fourth quarter against Alabama, Mettenberger was 2-of-3 for 58 yards on deep passes.

While Mettenberger comes in after the best half of his career, this week’s opponent has struggled defensively the last two weeks. Mississippi State has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 77.8 percent of passes the last two weeks without an interception (both losses). During its 7-0 start, Mississippi State intercepted 12 passes, so Saturday’s game is a good litmus test to see if Mettenberger truly has turned the corner.

Manziel faces LSU defense that starts fast

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
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Brett Davis/US PresswireTexas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel ranks second nationally with 392.7 yards of total offense per game this season.
In a matchup of ranked teams Saturday afternoon, the No. 18 Texas A&M Aggies host the No. 6 LSU Tigers in College Station, Texas (Noon ET: ESPN, WatchESPN, & ESPN3D). The Tigers arrive on the heels of a 23-21 win over then No. 3 South Carolina, their second of five straight games against teams currently in the Top 20 of the BCS standings.

Texas A&M comes in with some momentum of its own having won five straight games following a season-opening loss to Florida. In its two-point win over Louisiana Tech last weekend, Aggies freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel racked up an SEC-record 576 yards of total offense. It topped the previous record of 557 yards he put up earlier this season against Arkansas.

On the year, Manziel leads all FBS freshman in total offense per game (392.7) and a lot of it has to do with his legs. Manziel has gained 475 of his SEC-high 676 rush yards on scrambles this season, 90 more yards scrambling than noted runners Collin Klein, Denard Robinson, and Braxton Miller combined.

Overall, Manziel leads the SEC in yards per rush (10.3), touchdowns (seven), and 20-yard rushes (nine) on scramble attempts this season. Against LSU, however, Manziel and the Aggies will be facing a stout defense that doesn’t take long to get things rolling.

Seven games in, the Tigers have allowed just one touchdown, 10 points, and an FBS-low 191 yards in the first quarter (27.3 YPG). South Carolina managed just 23 yards in the first quarter last week and it didn’t get much better from there, particularly for Marcus Lattimore. The LSU defense held Lattimore to 35 yards on 13 carries, the fewest yards he’s gained in a single game since the 2010 Peach Bowl against Florida State.

The Tigers also got their own running game on track against South Carolina, rushing for 258 yards as a team after a 42-yard performance against Florida a week earlier. Another performance like that bodes well for LSU as it has won 16-straight games in which it has rushed for 200 yards or more.

On Saturday, the numbers say Texas A&M can afford to focus on stopping that Tigers ground game due to the inconsistent play by quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

Mettenberger has more passing yards through seven games than the duo of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson had last season, but he’s completed a lower percentage of passes and has half as many touchdowns.

The root of Mettenberger’s recent struggles has been throwing the ball downfield. He has completed just 14.3 percent of his pass attempts thrown 15 yards or more downfield against SEC opponents this season after completing 78.6 percent of such throws in non-conference play. Against those SEC foes, he has an interception and has yet to throw a touchdown on such passes.

Should those struggles continue and the Aggies pull the upset, it would continue a remarkable start for Kevin Sumlin. He’s the first head coach to start 5-1 or better in his first six games at Texas A&M since Dana Bible in 1917 (8-0). That’s something Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings, Jackie Sherrill and R.C. Slocum all failed to accomplish in their debuts in College Station.

LSU hopes Mettenberger passes test

August, 23, 2012
8/23/12
3:59
PM ET

AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLSU QB Zach Mettenberger will look to turn around a passing attack that struggled last season.
With six starters returning on offense and five on defense from a team that reached the BCS National Championship Game, it’s no surprise the LSU Tigers are No. 3 in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25. That’s even with the loss of cornerback Morris Claiborne and defensive tackle Michael Brockers – both NFL first-round picks – and the dismissal of All-America cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who won the 2011 Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

A major reason for the high expectations is at quarterback, where LSU fans believe it’s a matter of addition by subtraction. Redshirt junior Zach Mettenberger replaces Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, who shared the starting job last season. Who would’ve guessed that would be the case for a school replacing two players with a combined 50 career starts (32 for Jefferson, 18 for Lee) since 2008 with one who has never started an NCAA game?

With Jefferson and Lee as the primary starters over the last four seasons, the Tigers’ passing attack has struggled mightily. They finished in the bottom half of the SEC in four key passing statistical categories during that span.

In 2011, LSU nearly became the second team to beat four AP top-3 opponents in one season (Notre Dame did it in 1943) since the poll came into existence in 1936. The Tigers beat No. 3 Oregon, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Arkansas before losing to the second-ranked Crimson Tide in their rematch in the BCS National Championship Game. In four of its key games – the season opener against the Ducks, both Alabama matchups and the SEC Championship Game against Georgia – LSU got almost nothing from its passing attack yet managed to win three of those contests.

Enter Mettenberger, a strong-armed, pure pocket passer and the most highly touted quarterback to arrive on the LSU campus since JaMarcus Russell (ranked sixth), the first pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, signed in 2003. Mettenberger, the ninth-ranked quarterback in the 2009 signing class, first signed with Georgia but was dismissed from the team in 2010 before ever playing a down for the Bulldogs after getting into legal trouble.

Mettenberger then transferred to Butler (Kan.) Community College, where he led his team to the national title game in his lone season there and was the top-ranked quarterback in the junior college ranks before signing with LSU in 2011. Last season, Mettenberger completed 8-of-11 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown in five games.

LSU already possesses arguably the best set of running backs in the country and one of the nation’s most ferocious defenses. If Mettenberger can improve LSU’s oft-anemic passing attack, it’s easy to envision the Tigers in South Florida playing for the national championship for the second straight season.

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