Mettenberger shines but LSU falls to Georgia 44-41

Associated Press  |  Last updated September 28, 2013
Zach Mettenberger grew up dreaming of playing quarterback between the hedges. He finally got the chance on Saturday. It was everything he could've hoped for - except the outcome. Despite three touchdown passes and a career-best 372 yards from Mettenberger, No. 6 LSU surrendered a late touchdown and lost to No. 9 Georgia in a thrilling game between Southeastern Conference powerhouses. ''It was fun to have the big game passing,'' Mettenberger said. ''But at the end of the day, we lost.'' Aaron Murray threw four touchdown passes for the Bulldogs, including a 25-yarder to Justin Scott-Wesley with 1:47 remaining. Murray and Mettenberger were in the same recruiting class at Georgia, contending for the starting job in the spring of 2010. Mettenberger, a native of nearby Watkinsville, had always wanted to wear the red and black. His actions off the field cost him his chance. Mettenberger pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery charges after an incident in a bar and was kicked off the team. But his ties to Georgia run deep - most notably, his mother, Tammy, still works in football operations for the Bulldogs. Coach Mark Richt gave her the week off because of all the attention surrounding her son. ''It was tougher on her than me,'' Mettenberger said. ''She is a trooper and will be ready to go to work on Monday.'' The former teammates did all that could be expected of them. Mettenberger had three touchdowns on 23-of-37 passing, continually burning the Bulldogs on third down. He completed a 25-yard pass on Odell Beckham on third-and-22 to improbably extend a drive that led to Jeremy Hill's go-ahead touchdown. But Murray delivered the final blow. He finished with 298 yards passing and scored Georgia's other touchdown on a 1-yard sneak. ''It was incredible how well they played,'' Richt said. Mettenberger and his former coach hugged afterward. ''He's a man I have known for a long time,'' the quarterback said. ''I just congratulated him.'' The Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0 SEC) completed their opening-month run through a gauntlet of top teams with a victory that propelled them back into the thick of the national championship race. ''We've played some hard teams,'' Scott-Wesley said. ''We can handle anything anybody throws at us.'' Georgia was only the fourth team since the BCS began in 1998 to face three top 10 teams in the first four games of a season. The Bulldogs opened with a 38-35 non-conference loss to Clemson, but came back to beat South Carolina 41-30 and now the Tigers. ''We've grown up a lot this past month,'' Murray said. ''I think everyone in the nation knows what Georgia football is about now. We're a tough group of guys. We're fighters.'' Now, the Bulldogs are well-positioned to make a run for their third straight SEC East title and trip to the conference championship game. ''We're definitely happy,'' Murray said. ''If had to lose one of these games, obviously Clemson was the one, just because they're in the ACC. Not saying we wanted to lose. Don't get me wrong. But this is huge.'' LSU (4-1, 1-1) surged ahead 41-37 on Hill's 8-yard touchdown run with 4:14 to go. But that was plenty of time for Murray and the high-powered Bulldogs on a day when neither defense had much success. He completed three straight passes to quickly move the Bulldogs into LSU territory, and freshman J.J. Green broke off an 18-yard run to the Tigers' 25. Then it was Scott-Wesley, breaking wide open behind the secondary to haul in a pass and tiptoe just inside the pylon for the winning score. ''We have a long road ahead of us to get back to the top,'' Mettenberger said. ''We have to win out.'' Georgia did plenty of damage on the ground in the first half, but star running back Todd Gurley sustained an apparent left ankle injury on a 25-yard run. He didn't return, watching the second half while wearing a windbreaker and walking boot. Richt wasn't sure how long he'll be out. Georgia finished with 494 yards, though the bulk of those came in a back-and-forth first half that ended with Georgia on top 24-17. Little-used Kadron Boone had two early touchdown catches for LSU. Jarvis Landry turned out to be Mettenberger's go-to receiver with 10 catches for 156 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown that tied the game at 27 late in the third quarter. While Georgia is through the toughest part of its schedule, LSU still has games remaining against top-ranked Alabama and No. 10 Texas A&M. ''We have a good football team and we have everything in front of us,'' Tiger coach Les Miles said. ''When you play a quality team on the road, you can learn what needs to be corrected.'' --- Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at
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