October 6, 2013 1:56:08 AM
STARKVILLE -- Zach Mettenberger set himself apart Saturday as arguably the most dangerous pocket passer to face Mississippi State since Dan Mullen took over the Bulldogs program.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound quarterback carved up an overmatched secondary in a 59-26 victory. He brilliantly executed LSU's pro-style attack to the tune of 340 passing yards and an 86.2-percent completion percentage.
"We continue to throw the football effectively and for big plays down the field like we teach our players to look for," LSU coach Les Miles said. "It just becomes very difficult to have blitz schemes and extra guys around the line of scrimmage when we throw it like we are."
In the era of option offenses that is designed to spread defenses out with the threat of a running quarterback, Mettenberger is taking the old-school approach. The former Elite 11 quarterback out of Georgia prefers to take the traditional five-step drop and throw the football down the field. On another night in which he made a Southeastern Conference secondary look foolish, Mettenberger added to his NFL draft highlight tape by completing his first eight passes.
"Their quarterback is really good and their receivers are really good, too," Mullen said. "Sometimes you have to give both sides credit and then just say they took a lot of one-on-one matchups and made plays."
Mettenberger's ability to make a play out of nothing was one of the many reasons the Tigers (4-1, 2-1 SEC) were 5 of 7 on third down in the third quarter. He continued to keep MSU's defense on the field with key throws on third-and-long to extend drives that eventually resulted in touchdowns.
"Every time you would see him fire a throw to a receiver and those guys would go up and get the ball," MSU redshirt freshman defensive end Preston Smith said. "That would be so deflating and break our heart every time. We have to learn how to get off the field."
With the SEC is becoming more open to the spread offense, MSU hasn't faced too many pro-style quarterbacks in the past three seasons. In 2010, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett threw for 320 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-31 victory at Davis Wade Stadium. One year later, Aaron Murray led nationally ranked Georgia to a 24-3 victory in Athens, Ga., In 2012, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron tossed three touchdowns in a 38-7 victory in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"I get frustrated sometimes when we are missing coverages, but that doesn't happen as many times as people want to believe," Mullen said. "LSU players simply made extraordinary plays all night."
Mettenberger's style, confidence, and professional look seemed to be made for LSU's offense after former Tigers quarterback Jamarcus Russell was taken with the No. 1 overall in the 2007 NFL draft. But Mettenberger has taken a long road to get to this point. He originally signed with Georgia out of high school, but he was arrested for having a fake ID and kicked off the team. He transferred to Butler (Kansas) Community College for the 2010 season and then moved on to LSU. In 2011, he played in five games (no starts) as a sophomore. Last year, he led LSU to a 10-3 record and to three victories against top-25 teams. He threw for 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns. His performance against MSU gives him 1,738 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is completing 68.2 percent of his passes.
"When we recruited him and once he committed, we didn't look back," Miles said Saturday. "We really felt like he could throw it, but I have to be honest with you, he's tougher."
After back-to-back spectacular performances against Georgia and MSU, Miles wasn't shy about putting his quarterback up against anybody who has played at LSU.
"He's a better leader and more bought in than some of the quarterbacks we had that had success here," Miles said.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.