In an emotionally charged performance against one of college football’s most star-studded defenses, Alabama QB AJ McCarron looked inept for most of four quarters. Unable to move the ball through the air, he relied on the Tide’s ground game.
Down a field goal, the junior game manager came through in the clutch, completing 4-of-5 passes for 72 yards in the final minutes, setting up sensational true freshman RB T.J. Yeldon with a Barrett Jones-recommended game-winning screen toss that kept Nick Saban’s squad perfect.
Much more impressive than McCarron in a 21-17 losing effort was LSU QB Zach Mettenberger, a fireballing Georgia transfer. Despite two aggressive special-teams miscalculations — a failed fake field-goal attempt in the second quarter and an onside kick in the third quarter — the game shifted in the favor of LSU.
That’s when Mettenberger, dubbed the “Mettsiah” by LSU fans, came out firing. He used his rifle arm to exploit the deep outside third of the field against Alabama’s soft two-shell and helped LSU convert 10-of-20 third downs for the game.
Continually targeting the side of the field opposite the nation’s top cornerback, Alabama junior CB Dee Milliner, Mettenberger led the Tigers on consecutive TD drives to overcome a 14-3 deficit. That gave LSU control of the game early in the fourth quarter and put Alabama’s hopes of winning back-to back national championships on the ropes.
A trio of junior Tigers defenders — mammoth, athletic DT Bennie Logan, hard-charging, high-effort DE Sam Montgomery and a very aggressive-filling MLB Kevin Minter — successfully limited the Crimson Tide to a pair of three-and-outs to open the fourth quarter.
Mettenberger kept the chains moving again by coming through on two more third-down situations and finding Odell Beckham for a big 22-yard gain. The 11-play drive ate up nearly six minutes but another special-teams miscue — this time a missed 45-yard field goal — gave McCarron a final chance to salvage the Tide’s national title hopes.
He hit unheralded junior WR Kevin Norwood on three straight passes and perfectly preyed on an attacking John Chavis “D” with a screen toss to Yeldon, who made up for his critical third-quarter fumble by scooting 28 yards into the endzone.
• In a year in which there does not appear to be a true elite back in college football, Oregon senior Kenjon Barner made a case against USC for why he deserves more consideration, rushing for a career-high 38-321-5 against a Monte Kiffin defense that is typically stingy. However, most of Barner’s production came as a result of Chip Kelly’s spread-option offense, with more than 85 percent of his yardage coming before he was touched — a credit to a well-designed, zone blocking scheme.
• Noticeably taking too many bad angles, getting erased on the second level and gingerly stepping up in run support was USC senior FS T.J. McDonald, who gained a reputation for being a hard hitter from his flash, highlight-film hits last season. His performance against the run and pass have left much to be desired as a senior and though he will be drafted much more highly, he has even warranted some free-agent grades from veteran NFL evaluators.
• Georgia junior ILB Alec Ogletree showed exceptional coverage range vs. Ole Miss when he high-pointed an interception 25 yards downfield. Though he lines up inside in the Bulldogs’ 3-4 front, the run-and-hit ’backer is most ideally suited to play on the weak side for a “40” front where he could best utilize his elite speed. Following a four-game suspension to start the season, he is expected to depart early for the NFL draft.
• West Virginia senior Tavon Austin returned a punt 76 yards for a score against TCU to give the Mountaineers a seven-point lead late in the fourth quarter, showing terrific vision in traffic by sidestepping seven would-be tacklers approaching with good angles. Though the Mountaineers dropped their third consecutive contest, 39-38 in double overtime, Austin has been the squad’s most feared game-changing threat and has the elite burst, balance and big-play speed to become a game-breaker in the NFL.
• Texas A&M senior RB Christine Michael, who has been a disappointment since returning from a season-ending ACL injury last fall, has shown flashes of brilliance this fall, as he did on a 22-yard TD run in a 38-13 win over Mississippi State, showing very quick feet for a big back and a decisive running style. However, concerns still remain about his character as he fell to third on the depth chart behind junior Ben Malena and freshman Trey Williams after landing in the doghouse of head coach Kevin Sumlin.
• TCU junior WR Josh Boyce never will be confused with a burner. However, when the Horned Frogs needed a big play in the final minutes against West Virginia, Boyce showed enough competitive speed to outrace the competition for 62 yards after the catch to complete a 94-yard TD reception.