At 3:30 Saturday, Georgia and LSU will square off for the 8th time in the last 10 years. Which is quite a lot considering, if you take out those games, and an 11 game run between 1943 and 1953, these two storied SEC programs have only faced each other 11 other times total. So while we are increasingly familiar with what the Bayou Bengals are bringing into town, you can't pass up the chance to learn a little more about your opponents. Billy Gomilla from And The Valley Shook took the time to answer some questions for us, and without further ado:
Zach Mettenberger will certainly get a lot of attention this week. He left Athens with a big arm, suspect accuracy, and obviously some questionable decision making skills. How much has he improved in Baton Rouge? Do you think the extra emotions that come with a homecoming like this will help or hurt him on Saturday?
He's taken a huge leap in the last season in so many ways. In some ways, it's mostly experience-related. He was still just a first-time starter last season. But I think the inconsistency he showed in 2012 really disappointed Mettenberger, and he really dedicated himself this offseason, especially once he had the opportunity to work with a proven quarterback tutor like Cam Cameron. He just really looks dialed-in and focused on everything he's doing right now. He has tremendous command of LSU's offense at the line of scrimmage, and the chemistry with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry is off the charts. He's playing like a guy that expects to make every throw when he's on the field.
I think how he handles the return home is, obviously, the most interesting sub-plot to this game. Mettenberger doesn't strike me as the overly emotional type, per se, but you have to believe he's looking to put on a show. He strikes me as the more intense type, so the trick will be not to press early on to make the perfect throw. That was a problem for Mettenberger in 2012.
Speaking of the Tigers' offense, LSU invested a lot of money to bring Cam Cameron in from the NFL last winter to improve that side of the ball What changes has he made that have led to this season's strong early performances?
The biggest thing he's brought to the program is an ace quarterbacks coach, and that's certainly reflected in Mettenberger's play to date. But it goes beyond Mettenberger, with true freshman Anthony Jennings making big strides to emerge as the backup quarterback, even extending to recruiting.
In terms of coordinating the offense, he's given LSU more of a consistent, steady approach. This offense does what it does and hasn't really gotten rattled if something isn't working perfectly. In week one, the power-running game was struggling, so LSU shifted to the pass and began gashing TCU with draw plays and other misdirection runs. In subsequent weeks, we've seen LSU more or less just take whatever the defense gives, attacking man coverage in the passing game and then using the run when defenses are forced to play their safeties back. Meanwhile, the power running game is improving, and we expect to see this offense continue to grow.
Jeremy Hill looks like one of the better RBs to come out of Baton Rouge in a while, and y'all have produced plenty of very productive rushers of late. What makes him so good, and how can a Georgia defense that has really struggled to stop the run keep the Tigers power running game in check?
Hill's a great all-around back. He's got the size to run between the tackles, the speed to break things outside and can contribute in passing situations as well. His best asset is his vision for LSU's zone-blocking plays. He finds the right cut and always accelerates at the right moment, usually right as he hits the second level. That's been what's allowed him to break so many long runs. He weaves through traffic and always picks the exact right second to turn on the jets. What's more, is he's still getting into the swing of things after serving the suspension.
If Georgia's going to stand any chance of slowing him down they'll have to do it up front. LSU's offensive line is still a little bit of a work in progress, with some new guys in new spots, especially on the interior. Georgia's interior D-line will have to get some push against center Elliot Porter and guards Vadal Alexander and Trai Turner, and try to stop Hill before he can get a head of steam.
LSU lost a lot last year from their defense, but John Chavis is one of the most respected D Coordinators in the country for a reason. How strong is this year's D, and who should we watch for as the key play makers?
This is the area that is concerning most LSU fans. Most expected the Tiger defense to have some growing pains with this many new starters. It's been inconsistent, more than anything, so far. A lot of fits and starts, with the problems often coming after LSU's built a healthy lead. How much of that is related to players letting their guards down with the game in hand, or opponents adjusting to that youth and taking advantage? That's the part that we're not sure about yet.
The most alarming things have been that A) a group of linebackers that were really expected to be the strength of this defense have struggled, and that B) the defensive line is a little banged up at the moment, and depth is not what it's been the last few years.
Special teams has been a constant thorn in Georgia's side for the last several years. How scared should we be of Odell Beckham?
He's a tremendous open-field runner that can get up to his top speed very quickly, so if Georgia's struggled covering punts I would advise not kicking to him. In the past, he's shown a tendency to press for a big play and take some chances fielding punts he shouldn't. We're hoping that he's passed that, but it could be a concern in this kind of spotlight game.
Tiger Stadium is known as one of the more intimidating environments in college football, with Georgia being considered one of the quieter places to play in the SEC. What is an outsider's view of Sanford Stadium? Is there any concern from LSU about having to go on the road in this game?
It's been more than 10 years or so, but yours truly has been to Sanford Stadium, and despite a losing effort from LSU back in 1999, I still thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Sadly, I will not be making the trip this week.
Do we view many stadiums as a rival to Death Valley for volume? No, but any LSU fan with a brain expects things to be rockin' between the hedges this weekend. This is a huge game between two top 10 teams. LSU will have to be ready for a hostile crowd.
Les Miles seems rather eccentric with some of the videos he's made and press conference quotes, while some of his odd in-game calls have cost LSU games as often as they help win. What kind of relationship does he have with the Bayou Bengal fan base? Also, and not that I'm complaining, because it makes me laugh every time I see it, but why can't Les Miles clap like a normal person?
Well, he's won about 80 percent of his games in nearly eight seasons now, so I don't think you can really say that Miles has cost LSU too much.
This is big-time, SEC football, so outside of Alabama, I don't know that any SEC fan base is universally happy with their head coach. Georgia's had their frustrations with Mark Richt at times as well. Overall, the overwhelming majority can appreciate that Miles had kept this program running at a high level. He wins, hires good coaches and has been a lights-out recruiter, and is a few years away from surpassing Charles McClendon as the most successful coach in LSU history. We at ATVS are always trying to remind people that we are in a Golden Era of LSU football, and to try and enjoy it. It won't last forever.
One of my favorite things about Miles, is that he has his own style and frankly, just doesn't give a damn what anybody else, aside from his players, thinks about it. The goofy language, the gestures, it's all about trying to do things his own way and in a different way from other coaches. And frankly, a lot of it is just coach-speak. The guy talks media in circles better than almost anybody out there. He's just not afraid to be himself, and I find that refreshing.
And of course, a score prediction?
I'm not one for score predictions, but overall I expect this game to be as wild a shootout as last December's SEC Championship game. The quarterbacks are going to grab the headlines, but it would not surprise me at all if Todd Gurley and Jeremy Hill steal the show.
I feel like in the end, LSU's defense is maybe just a little bit better. What I don't know, is whether that's my own bias talking or not. We just haven't seen enough of this defense to know. So long as Mettenberger is on an even keel and avoids turning the ball over, I think that LSU makes a few more stops. That, combined with the Tigers' special teams advantage, are the difference in this game.
Thanks to Billy for his answers, (and for the foodies among us, check out his recipes at ATVS), and as always...