Even as the LSU Tigers kept up on the scoreboard with the Alabama Crimson Tide for long periods of a 38-17 loss on Saturday night, it always felt as if they were always just a step behind. Their team simply was not as physical, fast or well coached as the two-time defending national champions to compete for an entire 60 minutes, which reared its ugly head as they let up three-consecutive touchdowns after the game was tied 17-17 midway through the third quarter.
But even as LSU was thrown around with ease on Saturday night, quarterback Zach Mettenberger always seemed to find a way to keep things within reach, or at the very least was willing to put his body through enough harm to make it seem as if that was the case.
For the entirety of the night, Mettenberger completed 16-of-23 passes for 241 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. And while this was by no means an incredibly eye-popping line, and a loss will always be a bit of a downer, there is no doubting that the quarterback saw an incredible rise in his 2014 NFL Draft prospects.
Throughout the game, Mettenberger showed an uncanny ability to stick around the pocket and take hits while still throwing incredibly effective passes. One must only examine a 69.5 completion percentage against the best defensive unit in the game to come to grips with this, which is made to only look better when one considers Alabama picked up four sacks on the night and made it their mission to hit the quarterback as many times as possible.
At times, Mettenberger looked like a rag doll being thrown around for the pleasure of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who seemingly wanted to make sure he was stretchered off the field. This vicious strategy actually nearly worked to perfection as well, as the quarterback was hit on each of LSU’s final four plays — and sacked on the final three — leaving him in a state of pain that would leave some people going to the emergency room. But his ability to somehow drag himself up even as his legs attempted to give out will leave the most lasting of impacts in scouts and executives minds around the NFL.
While for some this may seem like a moot point in a loss as quarterbacks are defined by their record in the pros, this simply will not be the case with Mettenberger. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, with a laser beam of an arm and the pin-point accuracy to back it up, there was no doubting he has had the tools to become a pro quarterback for a long time. Furthermore, 2,733 yards, 20 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 65.7 completion percentage through 10 games has erased any doubts as to whether these skills could translate to domination at the college level.
But even this domination stood no test to the toughness test and quota that one must pass to truly be acknowledged as a top level prospect in the NFL. One must only look at the mocking that Jonathan Martin has received for calling out fellow Miami Dolphins teammate Richie Incognito to see that pro football is not a place for the weak.
Mettenberger passed this toughness test on Saturday night, and by a long shot. At no point on the night did he tap out or look afraid of any oncoming pressure, but it seemed that he relished in it and made sure that everyone knew it had no effect on his play.
For a guy who already has the entire package in terms of physical ability, this will be the final step in proving he is a viable long-term option for an NFL franchise and equate into being a top five pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.