Deckhead right up in here
OXFORD, Miss. — Zach Mettenberger’s sterling season in LSU’s revamped offense seemed to alleviate concerns the senior’s aim would betray him.
So consider Saturday night an unwelcome Groundhog Day as Ole Miss snagged a 27-24 upset of No. 6 LSU at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Mettenberger chucked three first-half interceptions to squelch promising drives, all on underthrown post routes into double coverage to his favorite target in Odell Beckham Jr.
Dialing in his accuracy wasn’t enough in the second half, either. Neither was the 4-yard touchdown pass to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
By then, his early struggles proved too much to overcome as LSU’s national title aspirations went kaput and its SEC title hopes weakened.
“We had a good game plan going in but just failed to execute,” said Mettenberger, who went 19 of 33 for 274 yards. “You can’t go anywhere in this conference and turn the ball over and win.”
Instead, his reliance with Beckham cost the Tigers dearly in the first half.
The first interception, his first in 40 throws, seemed an outlier.
After Beckham set up LSU with prime field position at the Ole Miss 38-yard line, LSU took a deep shot to end zone on first down. Off play action, Mettenberger threw down the seam but left the throw 3 yards short of Beckham. Rover Chief Brown simply laid out and snagged it.
“I don’t think it was a disconnect with wide receivers,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “We needed to push the big play.”
The second interception showed poor judgment — the opposite of decision-making that earlier in the season had him climbing NFL draft boards.
On first down at the Ole Miss 20, Mettenberger locked onto Beckham but didn’t he didn’t see safety Cody Prewitt roll over to provide help. The throw left his hand, and Prewitt simply snared the ball as if it were a rebound.
“Just bad plays,” said Mettenberger, whose last multi-interception game came last season against Ole Miss. “They made good plays on balls. Just got to be smarter.”
LSU’s next possession ended the same way: Mettenberger simply overshot Beckham at the Ole Miss 11, and Sawyer jumped and snagged the ball with 1:43 left until halftime.
“The routes had plenty of other options on the play, and he just needed to throw a completion,” Miles said.
And the first half continued a trend dating back to an average outing last week against Florida, a six-quarter stretch where Mettenberger had passed 204 yards and no touchdowns with a 57.1 completion percentage and a 100.4 passer rating. But Ole Miss figured to represent a chance to rebound.
The Rebels started sophomore Mike Hilton and freshman Bobby Hill at cornerback, offering an optimal chance for Mettenberger to link up with Landry and Beckham. Despite a running game averaging 5.3 yards per carry, Mettenberger and LSU pushed the ball downfield.
“I don’t think we were overaggressive,” Mettenberger said. “Just bad play calls by myself.”
It wasn’t until the second half, however, that Mettenberger blended arm strength and deft touch.
Namely, there was a perfect 15-yard throw on a slant pattern to Beckham to the Ole Miss 16 on fourth-and-10. Two plays later, his low throw sent Landry to his knees to tie it 24-24 with 3:19 left.
There was no chance to atone, however, after Andrew Ritter’s 41-yard field goal with three seconds left.
The gaudy stats, praise for keen decision-making and growing confidence mattered little. Instead, he resembled the signal-caller fans thought quarterback Cam Cameron had finely honed.
He resembled the man he spent the offseason trying to leave behind.
“This game is really on me,” he said. “I did some good things tonight, but overall I played pretty crappy.”