TSD is looking back at the 2013-14 academic calendar year in LSU sports.
There were plenty of exciting plays, games and moments, and even a few heartfelt ones, but as always some stood out above the rest. This week I'm rolling out the five most memorable moments from this beat writer's vantage point. (They will all come from the football and basketball programs as those are the two beats I cover.)
CLICK HERE for Monday's story recalling the basketball team's 87-82 home win over Kentucky in the "Ice Dome." CLICK HERE for Tuesday's write-up of the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game. And CLICK HERE for yesterday's remembrance of how Jennings-to-Dural sank Arkansas.
For those curious the only criterion used in my selection was "Which moments will I remember most vividly, as if they had just occurred, 10 years from now?" I have not ranked them, so they appear in no particular order.
** You can also share your favorite moment from Tiger athletics in 2013-14 on TSD. Send a brief email with your name, hometown and favorite moment to ben85L@yahoo.com. We'll run our collection of fan responses in a free story on the site next week. Limit one moment/email, please.
METT SHOWS METTLE IN ATHENS SHOOTOUT
Full disclosure, I am a two-time graduate of the University of Georgia and I cover Louisiana State University athletics for a living.
And neither of those facts has a single thing to do with why or how the game the two played in Athens on September 28, 2013, made my list of the five most memorable moments of the past calendar year in LSU sports. This fantastic story (and game) wrote itself.
For almost a whole year, dating back to October 2012, it was known that the Tigers and starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger would trek to the Classic City for a cross-division matchup with Georgia. Mettenberger, a native of nearby Watskinsville, Ga., had spent his first collegiate season in 2009 at UGA, where his mother Tammy still works in the football office, before a winding path of events led him to LSU in advance of the 2011 season.
To say the least there was familiarity between player and program and, to the outside world, an incredible amount of awkwardness surrounding Mettenberger's prodigal son-type return between the hedges.
In the week leading up to the game, Georgia coach Mark Richt made news by giving Tammy the week off. As for her son, Zach downplayed his highly anticipated return to the media, but, two months earlier at SEC Media Days in Hoover, he gave a great take on what he expected his reception would be in Sanford Stadium.
"I mean, what, they're going to cheer for me? Like, ‘Yeah, go Zach," the quarterback said to laughs on July 18 in the Wynfrey Hotel. "No, they're going to boo the crap out of me. I might get a fricking brick thrown at my head, who knows?"
Funny thing is, once toe met leather that warm afternoon in Athens, none of the subplot meant a thing. Really high-quality football, of the offensive variety, made everyone forget about all the pregame hoopla and madness, which included a visit from ESPN's College Gameday.
It was clear from jump street LSU-Georgia would be one of the new-age SEC shootouts that seemed to characterize the league in 2013. By the time it was done, it may have actually been the best and most entertaining edition.
A reported 92,746 people saw the fireworks, which included 85 total points, 50 first downs and 943 yards between the teams. Now, it would be one thing if the offenses were just prolific, but what made this showdown so unique and unforgettable was the truly nip-and-tuck nature of the contest.
The largest lead of the game, for either team, was seven points.
They were tied on five different occasions – at seven apiece, 14 apiece, 17 apiece, 27 apiece and 34 apiece. More often than not, in fact four of the five times, it was the visiting Tigers coming back to knot the affair after Georgia had taken a brief, slim lead.
And the individual numbers? Nothing short of eye-popping, especially considering the last time the two played in Athens, in 2009, the final score was 20-13 (in favor of LSU).
LSU WR Jarvis Landry – 10 catches for 156 yards, 1 TD
LSU WR Odell Beckham – 6 catches for 118 yards
LSU WR Kadron Boone – 2 catches for 52 yards, 2 TDs
LSU RB Jeremy Hill – 21 carries for 86 yards, 1 TD (on a pass-happy day)
Georgia QB Aaron Murray – 20/34 for 298 yards, 4 TDs/1 INT
Georgia RB Todd Gurley – 8 carries for 73 yards (before sustaining a serious injury)
Georgia RB Keith Marshall – 20 carries for 96 yards
Then there was Mettenberger. In the face of all that was swirling around him, from pregame pressure to mixed emotions to a swarming UGA defense that sacked him four times, Mett bowed up and delivered arguably the signature performance of his collegiate career.
LSU's senior gunslinger erupted playing mere miles from his hometown, completing 23-of-37 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns against no interceptions. He connected with Tiger pass-catchers, mainly Landry, seemingly every time the purple and gold needed to convert on third down. For the day LSU finished an uncanny 10-of-15 on third down, a near-impossible offense to get off the field.
But it was the Tiger defense that kept Les Miles & Co. from victory lane that day. John Chavis' crew, particularly the secondary, couldn't stop Murray and the Georgia offense – not when it mattered or, frankly, at any point.
UGA's ‘D' nearly equaled LSU's full-sieve mode, but the silver britches found a way to turn the Tigers back at the very end. With 52 seconds left, and LSU trailing by three at its own 35, Mettenberger's fourth-and-10 heave to Beckham went incomplete, ending the competitive portion of the contest.
I've watched a lot of SEC football in the past 10-15 years, but Georgia 44 – LSU 41 in 2013 is right up there among the best back-and-forth conference games I've ever witnessed.
After the final horn Mettenberger showed he had one last surprise left in his bag. The former Bulldog made a beeline to Richt, congratulating him and Georgia on the win while sharing an embrace. Richt soon after informed CBS' Tracy Wolfson he told Mettenberger he was "proud of him."
For Mettenberger it was a classy move from a guy who wasn't always known for those types of gestures or that type of sentiment. And, despite the fact LSU lost the hard-fought tilt, the amazing game and all that went into it will be long remembered by anyone in attendance, no matter which side of the ledger you were on.