From the pocket. After calling the play in a huddle.
No. 1 Alabama’s McCarron and No. 10 LSU’s Mettenberger are the increasingly rare pure drop-back passers these days in the Southeastern Conference, which doesn’t make their matchup in Saturday night’s game any less compelling.
Their styles might be college football throwbacks, but they sure can throw.
Mettenberger and McCarron are two of the SEC’s three most efficient passers and had quite a duel in last year’s game won by ’Bama on a last-minute touchdown pass to T.J. Yeldon.
Mettenberger has the rifle arm. McCarron has the two national titles as starter and a 33-2 career mark for Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) that gives him the highest winning percentage among SEC quarterbacks with 30-plus starts.
“He’s a winner. You can’t deny that,” Mettenberger said. “That’s just point blank. He’s lost two games in two years, won two national championships, and is undefeated this year. So I think the guy just prepares very hard each week and goes out there and performs well, week in and week out.”
Mettenberger has been putting up bigger numbers for the Tigers. He’s behind only Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel in passing yards and efficiency, throwing for 2,492 yards and 19 touchdowns against seven interceptions.
However, five of those picks came in the past two games for LSU (7-2, 3-2), including a loss to Mississippi.
Mettenberger passed for 298 yards against the Tide last season.
“He played fantastic against us last year, I think, the whole game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He made some great throws. He stood in the pocket and got whacked a couple of times and still made very, very good throws when we pressured, and he completed the ball.”
McCarron had zero passing yards in the second half before picking apart the LSU defense on the final drive and making the Tigers pay for a corner blitz with a screen that Yeldon took 28 yards for the game-winning touchdown. A few minutes later, an emotional McCarron headed to his family in the stands,
“Sports means a lot to me,” he said. “I play with my heart on my sleeve and I go hard every play.”
McCarron has 16 touchdown passes against three interceptions while throwing for 1,862 yards despite watching many fourth quarters from the sidelines in blowout wins. He was MVP of the national championship game rematch against LSU in January 2012 after a regular-season loss that might have been his turnaround moment.
That’s when Saban released the fiery McCarron to just be himself on the field instead of telling him to calm down.
Often labeled a game manager, he got a possibly backhanded compliment from LSU coach Les Miles.
“I think A.J. McCarron is a great, within the scheme playmaker,” Miles said. “I think he sees it. He makes all the throws. I think he’s a tremendous leader.”
Still, it’s mobile quarterbacks like Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Florida State’s Jamies Winston who are getting most of the Heisman Trophy buzz, not the guys deftly running pro-style offenses. Or the guy who could leave Alabama as a three-time national champion.
“I could care less,” McCarron said. “Props to them for doing whatever they’re doing and having a great year. I’m here to play for our team. I don’t really care what everybody else thinks.”
McCarron and Mettenberger are the only regular starting quarterbacks in the SEC with negative rushing yards this season. They’re content to beat teams with their arms and decisions.
And while last year’s game makes the head-to-head matchup intriguing, both quarterbacks are also surrounded by playmaking runners and receivers.
“It’s going to be all 11 guys on offense and I think both of us understand that, being fifth-years, that we don’t have to shoulder a lot of weight,” Mettenberger said. “We both have a lot of talented guys around us and we just need to get those guys the ball.”