In the land of SEC giants, defensive powerhouses dominate. However, when longtime cross-divisional rivals Florida and LSU take the field against one another for the 60th time, two rising quarterbacks will be taking center stage.
Zach Mettenberger’s career in the SEC began at Georgia, then took a drastic turn. He was dismissed, sent down to the JUCO level and finally resurfaced at LSU before the 2012 season. His first year in Baton Rouge did not go too smoothly, but he has flourished as a senior under first year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Through six games, he has completed 68.2-percent of his passes for 1,738 yards, 15 touchdowns and only two picks.
Whether or not his two star receivers, Odell Beckham (686 receiving yards and six scores) and Jarvis Landry (616, seven) can get open against Florida’s superstar-laden defensive backfield remains to be seen, however. Both Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson are future high NFL draft picks. Freshman Vernon Hargreaves III may wind up being one of the best to ever come through The Swamp.
On the other side of the football, Tyler Murphy continues to impress. Like Mettenberger, Murphy had a very slow start to his career. The redshirt junior was forced to take a backseat to one starter after another until this year’s No. 1, Jeff Driskel, broke his fibula. Murphy was finally able to throw his first collegiate pass – and he has not missed his target very many times since. His completion percentage sits at 72.2 percent with 530 yards, five scores and one interception.
He does not boast nearly the receiving corps Mettenberger has at his disposal, but there is talent there. Solomon Patton has caught four touchdowns and Trey Burton is a talented, reliable target.
Then again, we all know coach Will Muschamp will try running the football early and often. Sophomore Matt Jones is a star in the making. Mack Brown is the type of bruising backup that Muschamp loves to punish defensive fronts with. Both will have their opportunity to shine, but actually accumulating yardage will not be easy.
Not with linebacker Lamin Barrow patrolling the middle of the field. Barrow is coach Les Miles’ senior, defensive leader, and he anchors a unit that boasts speed and talent across the board. Jermauria Rasco is one of seven Tigers players that boasts at least one sack and all will be looking to make life incredibly difficult for Murphy, Matt and Mack.
These two squads are built quite similarly. Just like Muschamp loves to lean on his running game and defense, Miles may be looking to do the same. He too boasts a cadre of running backs, with Jeremy Hill at the forefront. Despite being suspended for the first game of the season, he still leads the team with 594 rushing yards and a whopping nine touchdowns.
Will he be able to break through against a defensive line that includes such big, strong weapons as Jon Bullard, Dante Fowler and Leon Orr?
If not, will Mettenberger continue to shine? His Tigers lost, 44-41, in a shootout against Georgia, can they pull out a win if Saturday’s game is similarly high scoring?
The better question is, rather, can the Gators? Murphy has looked great, but Florida’s defense has been so strong that he has not yet been asked to go blow-for-blow with another team’s offense. If he must, will he be up to the task?
Will his receivers and his backs be?
We have no idea. We simply do not know what the answers to these questions are, but perhaps you do. It’s time to settle it.
[Bottom Photo: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports, Top Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports]