Better Tigers QB: Zach Mettenberger or Nick Marshall?
Auburn has only played three games this season, yet they've matched last year’s win total. This Tigers squad is hungry and anxious to prove that 2012 was a fluke. New coach Gus Malzahn has installed his hurry-up offense that worked so well for Auburn during their 2010 championship season. Unfortunately for the Tigers from the Plains, Cam Newton is playing for the Carolina Panthers.
Even without Newton, the Malzahn-led offense (he was offensive coordinator from 2009-11) still has its moments. New LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is having his moment right now. The Bayou Bengals' offense hasn’t looked this good in years. They are ranked 12th in the nation in scoring with 46 points a game.
Now let’s take a look at the key matchup featured in this contest: the quarterback battle.
The Case For Zach Mettenberger
This is Mettenberger’s second season as the starter and his third year in the program. Cameron has his quarterback playing with a ton of confidence and seems to be dialing up all the right plays at the right time. It’s no coincidence that the LSU players are following Mettenberger as a leader more this year than in the past.
The stiffest competition he’s faced this year was the season opener against TCU. He completed half of his passes for 251 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Auburn has implemented a 4-2-5 defense, the same scheme used by TCU. However, there’s a big difference between the Horned Frogs’ defensive personnel and Auburn’s players.
Speaking of personnel, LSU has a better supporting cast around Mettenberger than Auburn has around Nick Marshall. Receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry have combined for 32 catches, 576 yards, and nine touchdowns. Don’t forget Beckham’s 109-yard placekick return for a touchdown against UAB. Also, the Bayou Bengals have a deep pool of running backs to take the pressure off Mettenberger. There are four legitimate options at running back (Terrence Magee, Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, and Kenny Hilliard) and two solid fullbacks (J.C. Copeland and Connor Neighbors).
The Case For Nick Marshall
The junior college transfer has played surprisingly well in Malzahn’s Auburn offense. He has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 585 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Marshall also has the ability to use his legs to get out of trouble and has rushed for more than 100 yards so far. He is a true dual-threat quarterback that ran for more than 1,000 yards last season in junior college.
Auburn does have some dangerous running backs that may be small by SEC standards, but they're extremely fast. Tre Mason, Alabama transfer Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne all are shorter than six feet and weigh about 200 pounds. The three have combined for five rushing touchdowns and average more than six yards per carry.
You can always count on Malzahn to call some odd trick play to spark his offense in a big game. Don’t be surprised to see a double pass, a trick play in a punting or placekicking situation, or just some weird offensive formation at some point during this contest.
The Winner: Zach Mettenberger
He has more experience and more overall team talent and depth than Marshall. Also, this will be the first road game for Marshall and the young Auburn Tigers. Playing at Death Valley on Saturday night is challenging for any opponent, especially for Auburn, which has lost its last six matchups against LSU in Baton Rouge. Mettenberger should have another big game against a team that’s not quite ready to compete with the upper echelon of the SEC.