If you had to be paired in the Outback Bowl with a 9-3 SEC team that gave Auburn its only loss and held Johnny Manziel to 10 points, maybe it’s best to do so against a team without a proven quarterback.
LSU is Iowa’s foe in Tampa on New Year’s, and a sturdy foe it is. You’re talking about a program that is 43-9 over the last four seasons, and 94-24 in nine years under Les Miles’ guidance. You don’t need to explain who the Tigers are to anyone who follows college football.
But every season and every week tells a different story about a team, and LSU’s story of the moment is this: Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger tore an ACL midway through the fourth quarter of the final game of the regular-season. He won’t play against the Hawkeyes.
Were Mettenberger an average talent, it would be one thing. But this player was projected to be a first-round NFL draftee before the injury.
Mettenberger threw 22 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions, and ranks third in the nation in passing efficiency behind Jameis Winston of Florida State and Baylor’s Bryce Petty. He’s ahead of such notables as Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
“We are very disappointed for Zach,” Miles said last week. “He’s been a tremendous leader for our team and he’s as competitive a guy as I have ever been around. He’s had a great impact on our program.”
So Iowa is getting a fine opponent, but not an opponent at its best. Unless backup Anthony Jennings, a dual-threat freshman, steps up the way he did in that final regular-season game, a surprisingly close 31-27 home victory over Arkansas.
Trailing 27-24, the Tigers had the ball at their own 1-yard line. “I said, ‘Let’s go. It’s time to go 99 yards,’ ” Jennings said after the game. “There was no doubt in my mind we were going to do that.”
They did, with the last 49 yards coming on a pass from Jennings to Travin Dural with 1:15 left.
How will Jennings, who has thrown 10 career passes, do over 60 minutes against a defense ranked seventh nationally? Tune in three weeks from now.
“We will add things,” Miles said. “His (Jennings) skill set is as an accurate thrower. He fits the offense like Zach did.”
This much we know: Like Iowa, LSU has a good defense. It’s ranked 20th nationally in total defense, 21st in scoring defense. That’s after playing Auburn, Alabama, and Texas A&M. The Nov. 23 score against A&M stands out in red letters: Bayou Bengals 34, Aggies 10.
LSU ended A&M’s streak of games with 40-plus points at 13, and it wasn’t even close.
‘We just got punched in the mouth tonight and it wasn’t fun,” said Manziel, who completed just 16 of 41 passes and was intercepted twice.
LSU’s losses were all on the road, to Georgia (44-41), Mississippi (27-24) and Alabama (38-17).
This is the Tigers’ 14th-straight season with a bowl-appearance. When it comes to which team and which group of fans will be more excited to be at this game, it’s Iowa and Iowa’s. Now we’ll see if that translates to anything on the field. It couldn’t hurt.
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