A tale of two quarterbacks: Murray and Mettenberger

Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray enrolled at UGA together. (AJC file)

Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray enrolled at UGA together. (AJC file)

Athens area native and former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger returns to Sanford Stadium this week wearing LSU’s purple and gold — and to hear some people tell it, the prodigal son will be out to reclaim the birthright that should have been his.

Or some such hogwash.

We all know the history: Aaron Murray and Mettenberger were both highly ranked prospects coming out of high school. I first saw Mettenberger play when he was still at Oconee County High School and was impressed with his size and his arm. He looked like a classic pro-style quarterback prospect, but he was awfully raw and not very mobile. He and Murray, who had come back from a broken leg to lead his high school team to a championship, both enrolled early at UGA, took redshirt seasons while Joe Cox was the starting QB, and then did battle with Logan Gray for the starting spot behind center in the spring of 2010.

The battle mainly was between Murray and Mettenberger, and Mett, who has a good 4 or 5 inches on Murray and a rifle arm, had the better game at G-Day, giving rise to the theory that, had he not been kicked off the team shortly after because of sexual battery charges, he would have been the presumptive starter.

That’s the kind of myth TV networks love, but it flies in the face of the facts. Even before he was cut loose by Mark Richt, Mettenberger already had gotten himself suspended for that fall’s starting game because of an alcohol infraction, and that would have made it unlikely he’d be inserted as starter ahead of Murray in that season’s big second game, against South Carolina. Also, in that G-Day game where he played so well, he was throwing against second-teamers and never got a chance to take a snap with the first team, which was run by Logan and Murray.

Even though Mettenberger was the G-Day star and, as Artie Lynch said at the time, was gifted with “an NFL arm and NFL size,” the smaller but more agile Murray was already the leader in the clubhouse for the starting nod at that point.

At the time, Richt said flatly that even if Mettenberger had stayed on the team, Murray would have been the No. 1 QB. As Richt recalled this week for the Macon Telegraph, “Murray was a little bit more polished in that he was in a high school system that was maybe closer to what we’re doing. Whereas Zach … had some catching up to do in some of those finer points.”

Mettenberger returns to Sanford Stadium as an LSU Tiger. (Associated Press)

Mettenberger returns to Sanford Stadium as an LSU Tiger. (Associated Press)

Chances are good that, had Mettenberger not been dismissed from the Georgia team, he and Murray would have wound up facing each other as opponents anyway. Georgia defensive back Blake Sailors, who has known Zach since second grade, said this week that he thinks Mettenberger would have transferred if he hadn’t won the starting job at UGA. And Murray agreed that one of them probably would have left Georgia.

But the Murray bashers who’ve never accepted that he’s even the best QB on the team, much less one of the best in the nation, have cast this Saturday’s Georgia-LSU game as some sort of referendum on the subject, with the admonition that if LSU wins it will prove that Richt made a mistake and picked the wrong quarterback.

They’re probably lifetime members of the Flat Earth Society, too, because they’re in full denial about Murray, who last year ranked second in the nation in passing efficiency, is closing in on the SEC record for touchdown passes, is the SEC’s leading active player in total offensive yards and became the first QB in SEC history to have three consecutive 3,000-yard passing seasons.

Meanwhile, Mettenberger played a season at Butler Community College in Kansas and then rode the bench most of the time his first season at LSU before finally becoming the starter last season. He led his team to 10 wins and impressed a lot of folks with his play in a losing effort against Alabama, but he also struggled mightily at times against the stronger defenses the Tigers saw. Mettenberger threw for 2,609 yards and 12 TDs last season while Murray wracked up 3,893 yards and 36 TD passes.

Mett’s playing markedly better this season under a new offensive coordinator, but the toughest opponents LSU has faced so far are TCU and Auburn. Georgia, meanwhile, has already played two Top 10 teams.

Aaron Murray has had a record-setting career at Georgia. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Aaron Murray has had a record-setting career at Georgia. (Jason Getz / AJC)

So far this season, Mettenberger is second in the SEC in pass efficiency (193.6) and fourth in passing yards per game (256.5). Murray leads the conference in both those categories.

But what about Murray’s troubles in big games, the bashers say, ignoring two consecutive wins over the Gators, his fine performance in a near-win against Bama, and this year’s South Carolina game, when Murray completed 17 of 23 for 309 yards and four touchdowns and was named Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week.

OK, let’s look at big games. Mett and his team beat South Carolina and Texas A&M last season but lost to Florida, Alabama and Clemson. Georgia lost to South Carolina and Alabama. Give Mettenberger a slight edge in comparing the two QB’s performances against the Crimson Tide: He completed 24 of 35 for 298 yards and one touchdown, while Murray completed 18 of 33 for 265 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But Murray’s effort was in the SEC Championship Game and brought the Bulldogs within one play of having a shot at the national championship.

Bottom line: If I were given a choice of which one I could have as my quarterback for the remainder of the season, I’d take Murray over Mettenberger with no hesitation. Murray is by no means a perfect quarterback. He forces the ball into coverage at times and gets antsy when his offensive line isn’t playing well, but he’s still the guy in whose hands I want the ball when the game is on the line — he showed why last year with his second-half comeback against Florida and this year with his nearly perfect game against South Carolina.

Besides, viewing this game as Murray vs. Mettenberger, as many are doing, ignores the many other aspects of the two teams that likely will be factors in which one comes out on top.

You could make just as much of a case that it’s Todd Gurley vs. Jeremy Hill.

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360 comments Add your comment

True DAWG

September 25th, 2013
10:21 am

tough call I am fine with Murray but mett prop been pretty good too

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

September 25th, 2013
10:23 am

I dont think there is enough to compare the 2 given Mett has played only a season and 3 ball games compared to 3 seasons and 3 games

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

September 25th, 2013
11:00 am

Altamaha

The players need to realize their position is not to be taken for granted; thats the point;

Even though Morgan beat everyone out for the position Morgan put the team in a bad position by his actions by not having him when we needed him; so what good is a player that is not playing cause of suspension that the team needs out there

Again Beless hasnt missed a PAT or a kick for that matter why not give the kid more opportunity

BTW Morgan missed 4 PAT’s last year and did a nice job coming back and missing another field goal in a low pressure game against North Texas I might add

the point is it sends a message to other players that you get in trouble we will just move on to the next guy that performs and doesnt put the team in a bad spot

WDE

September 25th, 2013
11:16 am

I’m hoping Murray has a mirror image of the SC game this year if so we win….Go Dogs !

bubba4dawgs

September 25th, 2013
11:17 am

Murray drives me crazy sometimes but I would take him over Mettenberger. Murray thinks on his feet and has much more game experience than Mettenberger. It will be a very tough battle but as I see it, the game is won or lost in the trenches. If Todd Grantham can keep fresh legs going in and out and Bobo can make the right calls, the DAWGS should prevail, close but prevail!j GO DAWGS!!

Bulldawg35

September 25th, 2013
11:17 am

I wonder which qb will throw the most int’s? I’m betting on Murray!

Desert Fox

September 25th, 2013
11:18 am

Arguably, ZM has gotten better over the past two seasons and is playing his best ball to date. He’s not mobile and that is key to slowing him down and LSU’s passing game. It showed vs AU game. You pressure him and his effectiveness as a passer is diminished. But that may not stop LSU if GA’s CTG and the D cannot stop those big, strong backs. They run right at you. Dawgs had problems stopping Clemson and SC RB’s up the middle and around the sides. LSU’s OL are big and strong. I think they’ll gain a lot of yards w/the running game. Just have to hope the D can stop them a drive or two maybe get a TO or two so AM and the offense have a chance put some points on the board. Our offense and OC have to click and have SC like performance to win this game.

Bulldawg35

September 25th, 2013
11:19 am

I’m so tired….I only slept 2 hrs last night worrying about my dawgs! Will somebody please reassure me that we have a chance in this game?

Flo-Ri-Duh

September 25th, 2013
11:27 am

Mettenbubba will be run down like a fox being chased by hounds.

Stop making dumb penalties
avoid turnovers
block
tackle
WIN!

Go Dawgs>>>>>

Old Dawg

September 25th, 2013
11:27 am

I’ve never understood rating QBs based on their won-loss records. I know it’s a comparison to the battery in baseball, where the pitcher-catcher relationship often determines wins and losses. But it’s really a non-sequeter.

Football is a much more of a team sport. At times a QB can dominate a game or earn great statistics and the team still loses. Defense, special teams and other factors can be the determining factor for wins and losses. Just look at the horrible UGA defenses during Matt Stafford’s career, the lack of a running game and poor defense during Eric Zeir’s UGA career and Eli Manning with the Giants. Without a running game, quality offensive line and a less than stellar defense, Manning is unable to perform at his previous level.

In regard to the Murray-Mettenberger rivalry, it’s a moot point. They’re friends who used to play on the same team and now they don’t.

Can we just tee it up and play football without all the soap operas?

Flo-Ri-Duh

September 25th, 2013
11:33 am

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) – It’s the Milk Duds…… known side effects: feeling tired
negative attitude
whining
crying
wetting your bed

Lay off the Milk Duds and have a happier life!

Bulldawg35

September 25th, 2013
11:33 am

RIP Paul Oliver! I just can’t believe it. I’m lost for words.

Flo-Ri-Duh

September 25th, 2013
11:36 am

Old Dawg – Stafford had a run game – it was called Knowshon Marino

USC Jimi

September 25th, 2013
11:36 am

As in most big games, it will be won in the trenches unless turnovers are lopsided. UGA’s best chance is to take an early lead and not let LSU control the game tempo! It should be a great match-up of two top ten teams.

Old Dawg

September 25th, 2013
11:42 am

You’re right, I forgot Flo-Ri-Duh. But the defense was awful!

Bulldawg35

September 25th, 2013
11:48 am

Flo-ri- duh….

Hey buddy I feel how I feel because UGA gives me a very good reason! Everything we do on the field is a struggle! Mcgarity needs to step in and help with the defense!!!!

ARdawg

September 25th, 2013
11:52 am

Flat tire

Morgan missed the “no pressure” 52 yarder slightly wide right. Beless did well, has potential but he hasn’t the foot Morgan has. A 52 FG isn’t the easiest ball to kick.

I-DOG

September 25th, 2013
11:53 am

I believe Georgia wins this one in a close game for the following reasons:

1.) Playing at home. It will be loud and it will make a difference

2.) Georgia has played two top flight teams already while LSU has yet to face one. That will make a difference as well.

3.) The D will play better this week. They won’t be dominant, but I think we can hold LSU to 24 points or fewer and that would give us a good chance to win. I think we will blitz more often and from different areas this week against a less mobile QB than we have had to face.

4.) Murray will have a good game. While his overall record against top flight competition is not good, his last few games against them have been good including Bama last year, South Carolina this year and even against Clemson he played well enough to win. With a strong running game and improved if inconsistent offensive line will be a big help in Murray leading a victory.

LSU has a very good team and we can’t turn the ball (no more than -1), can’t commit a lot of penalties (no more than 6) and can’t have special teams meltdowns that lead to TD’s for the Tigers.

30-24 Dawgs

SC_Dawg

September 25th, 2013
11:59 am

If we don’t find a way to get some pressure on ZM, we’re going to be in for a long day. Our secondary is terrible. If he has time to throw its not going to be pretty.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

September 25th, 2013
12:03 pm

ARDawg

Beless has already made a 22 and 37 yd in the SC game ( so he can probably be counted on to at least make a 38 yd FG)

Yea I guess Morgan has the better foot but he was 2/3 for 30-39yd field goals; 3/8 or 37% for 40 yrd and beyond last year and already 0% this year

So he may have the “stronger leg” but no accuracy; so does it really matter

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

September 25th, 2013
12:08 pm

Funny how Murray has gotten the blame for not winning the big games

Fans we’ve been losing big games since the 05 Sugar Bowl; was Murray the QB then??

I wonder who gets blamed next year

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

September 25th, 2013
12:13 pm

ARDawg

Morgan missed the high pressure 50 yd in the SEC championship game

Guess what he makes that we spike the ball kick a FG; and we win the National Title

But I guess big game Murray is at fault with most of our fans and media

nobody

September 25th, 2013
12:22 pm

how did UGA miss out on J.C. Copeland…he played HS football at Troup County?…

nobody

September 25th, 2013
12:22 pm

how did UGA miss out on Copeland…he played HS football at Troup County?…

NCDawg

September 25th, 2013
12:48 pm

Murray is good QB and Coach Bobo is a good OC… they border on great. Again, the play calling thing is way overworked. If it works it’s great and if it doesn’t off with his head? Really?! Does that sound remotely rational? ALL coaches, at any level, make outright mistakes at times… but much of what I’ve seen get blamed on Coach Bobo is decent play calls that just didn’t get executed. Not every play works the way it’s supposed too. And yes, even, dives up the middle if they are executed properly will get the job done. Just damn people… the play calling is better than most almost all of the time. Sometimes a good call just doesn’t work. It’s just the way it is…

Murray doesn’t need to be superman tomorrow… he just needs to do what he can and let his team mates take care of the rest. Just play ball and have fun. The rest will take care of itself. He doesn’t need to TRY to make up for the defense. He just needs to play like he can.

I can see the allure to someone not a Dawg fan in exploring the Mett vs Murray storyline but for us long time Dawg fans it is WAY old.

I’d like to say – I hope Mettenberger lays an egg tomorrow and then plays lights out the rest of the year… especially against UF… but I just don’t wish anybody ill will. It will be what it will be.

robodawg

September 25th, 2013
1:13 pm

If LSU beats us it will be with Jeremy Hill and their massive offensive line. Their passing game is there just to keep you honest. This will not be a day for us to be soft up the middle.

I do think Clemson and South Carolina were good preparation for us going into this one. And North Texas should warn us what happens when we get sloppy (better against them than LSU).

I expect to put up some points on them.

Predictor

September 25th, 2013
1:24 pm

I expect Murray to turn in another fine performance in a near-win against LSU.

AltamahaDawg

September 25th, 2013
1:31 pm

flat tire, give up already. We all know you are just making up this argument, You JUST said in the last blog, that the importance of the “message” you want to send about getting into trouble is only as deep as the player’s stats. That’s some real high moral ground you’re standing on there.

Flo-Ri-Duh

September 25th, 2013
1:33 pm

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) – WELL ……….. it’s time to change your attitude. Are you a Dawg or are you not? I am VERY positive on this game. LSU has 8 new starters on defense as does UGA. They have most of their key players back on offense as does UGA. Special teams will be the key. Kick coverage was good before the North Texas game. Frix, who replaced Theus last week did well and will be a steady influence.

**** KEY: Holding LSU to 4 yards or under on 1st down and then bring the heat on Mettenbubba.
I can see Mettenbubba having TWO turnovers in this game. Beginning with the 2nd half of the Game Cluck game the defense has only given up 6 points.

Flo-Ri-Duh

September 25th, 2013
1:37 pm

The only thing that counts is a “W” and stats are for losers. Dawgs will have more points when the clock goes to ZERO!

AltamahaDawg

September 25th, 2013
1:37 pm

I think we WILL give Beliss more opportunity. Why are you insisting that he will never see the field again? OBVIOUSLY we needed to get Marshall Morgan as many reps as possible in the N.Texas game.

Would have been absolutely stupid not to get him out there asap. He sill has to win or keep his job every week. As always.

Flo-Ri-Duh

September 25th, 2013
1:45 pm

The Bulldog Nation is in mourning for the tragic death of Paul Oliver. Way to soon at the age of 29.
Such a heart breaking tragedy. My condolences to the family.

AltamahaDawg

September 25th, 2013
1:48 pm

And BTW, “most of our fans” are huge fans of Aaron Murray and have never blamed him for the Alabama lose.

Players, fans, coaches, administration. Is there ANYbody associated with Georgia football that you don’t have a smarmy comment about? I recall you were pretty down on the janitor’s too.

WDE

September 25th, 2013
2:00 pm

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

September 25th, 2013
2:03 pm

My point was made on this blog

and

wow; I think that a kid who stays out of trouble does a superb job replacing a suspended player and that ends up causing “the Coaching staff does no wrong’ to get ticked again

NCDawg

September 25th, 2013
2:18 pm

Thoughts and prayers for the Oliver family. He was DGD. In my book that is a very high honor.

UGA Insider

September 25th, 2013
2:21 pm

The fact that Mett can’t run is a major problem for LSU. The UGA D should be able to put major pressure on him and force him into some timely turnovers. The GA crowd better get off their asses be be very loud and vocal. If you are planning on sitting on your hands all game please sell your tickets and stay home. Also, please do NOT tell me to sit down. I am going to stand the ENTIRE Game.

UGA 35
LSU 20

UGA 49
Oregon 40 (Rose Bowl?

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

September 25th, 2013
2:25 pm

you can be just as loud sitting down

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

September 25th, 2013
2:26 pm

UGA isnt beating Oregon either

AltamahaDawg

September 25th, 2013
2:36 pm

yes, he did do a superb job. Nobody disagreed.

Pity you tried to use that to make up some argument.

AltamahaDawg

September 25th, 2013
2:38 pm

insider, what section of the stadium will your seats be in, where people behind you are going to be telling you to sit down?

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

September 25th, 2013
2:42 pm

I didnt try to make an argument just a statement

AltamahaDawg

September 25th, 2013
2:43 pm

by bad, a statement.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

September 25th, 2013
2:44 pm

Lets pass out awards to those who stand up for 3 and half hours for the entire ball game :roll:

Predictor

September 25th, 2013
2:47 pm

If the fans can’t manage to win this game, then the Dawgs are in a heap o’ trouble.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

September 25th, 2013
2:47 pm

Im sorry the coaching staff was questioned about the decision

AltamahaDawg

September 25th, 2013
2:51 pm

The coaching staff has not been questioned about the decision.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

September 25th, 2013
2:55 pm

I was questioning the decision in my statement

AltamahaDawg

September 25th, 2013
3:01 pm

seems we do have something we agree on.

The: I stood all day honor badges.

Nobody in section 13doesn’texist9 gets one, because they planned on sitting on their hands for the entire LSU ball game.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

September 25th, 2013
3:06 pm

you lost me on that