Now is the Time
Entering his senior season, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger looks to take that next step
By Trey MongruePosted Jul 31, 2013
In the eyes of LSU fans – who demand perfection – quarterback Zach Mettenberger was always destined to fail.
The “Mettsiah” – like expectations placed on his shoulders the second he announced his transfer from Butler Community College to LSU were so extreme that it’s unlikely even a Joe Montana-Peyton Manning hybrid could have handled them.
In the years since Matt Flynn helped lead the Tigers to their most recent national title, to say that LSU has been inconsistent under center would be putting it lightly. That was all supposed to change when Mettenberger took the reins in 2012.
He and his cannon arm were supposed to propel LSU past Alabama, and eventually, all of college football.
As has been well-documented, that didn’t happen.
Even though Mettenberger believes that the fan base should have tempered its unruly expectations from the very beginning, he also will be the first one to say that he needs to improve with his senior season. That’s what he’s been working toward, and we’ll see how he does in the Tigers’ opener with TCU, fast approaching.
“Going day-in and day-out to improve and get better, working to improve my craft as a quarterback and also improving my skills as a leader with my teammates,” he says of his practicing. “Whether it’s taking 100 drops a day and making 100 throws a day, whatever I need to do, or whatever I feel that’s weakest that day.”
Mettenberger’s first season as LSU’s starting quarterback was definitely a step in the right direction for an offense that has quickly cultivated a reputation for being passing deficient.
His 2,609 passing yards was the most in a season for an LSU quarterback since JaMarcus Russell’s 2006 season. His best game came when the Tiger Stadium lights were shining at their brightest - when Alabama came to town.
In that game, Mettenberger completed 24 of 35 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown. Although LSU ultimately fell to the Crimson Tide, Mettenberger proved to the world that he could pick apart the most vaunted of defenses and compete in a conference that has suddenly become quarterback-heavy.
“There’s a lot of great talent in this conference,” says Mettenberger. “This conference has been known for its defensive prowess but I think quarterbacks will get their shot this year to see what they can do.”
Miles believes that Zach will be one of those quarterbacks to get a shot this season.
“We expect that quarterback play will be much better,” says Miles of his senior signal caller. “Certainly the experience and the want that he has, has helped in leadership, the commitment of a summer program, has all been seen.”
Standing at 6-foot-5, 230-pounds and with a rifle for an arm, Mettenberger was always projected to be the prototypical pocket-passing quarterback. However, he proved to be more gunslinger than game manager in 2012 as the12 passing touchdowns he recorded were marred by seven interceptions – including a crucial one in the Tigers’ 25-24 loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“That’s one thing we have been working on this spring,” he explains. “I want to condition my mind and body to be able to finish games.”
Mettenberger is not alone in that endeavor to improve. Right before spring practice began, Miles brought in Cam Cameron as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator – the fifth person to hold that position in Miles’ eight-year tenure at LSU – with hopes of adding a more potent passing attack element to the offense.
“Knowing him as a mentor to quarterback play, we’re looking forward to this offense,” Miles says of Cameron. “I think he likes to throw the ball down the field extremely well. I think those things you’ll see as this offense goes forward.”
Cameron comes to Baton Rouge with a wealth of experience working with both quarterbacks in college as well as the NFL. Miles knows him well from Michigan, where from 1987 to 1993 they both worked under legendary head coach Bo Schembechler.
Cameron says his first view of Mettenberger showed him what pretty much every LSU fan expects – a championship-caliber playmaker.
“He’s an extremely hard worker and that’s critical to be a great quarterback,” Cameron says. “He’s extremely tough mentally and physically. He’s got the respect of the football team. I want to help him build on the good things he’s been doing. I like what I see.”
So far, that feeling is mutual.
“[Cameron’s] teachings have definitely been something that I can get a grasp on and learn from,” explains Mettenberger. “Just knowing his pedigree and the guys that he has worked with, it makes you pay attention and learn everything you can from the guy. I only got six months left with him so I’m going to try and learn as much as possible.”
One thing that Cameron may not be able to help Mettenberger with is the potential for distraction when the Tigers travel to Athens, GA, on September 28 to take on Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs.
Mettenberger was born in Watkinsville – a mere eight minutes away from UGA’s campus – and dreamed of playing for the Bulldogs from the time he was nine years old and realized he could throw a football pretty far.
That dream became a nightmare when Mettenberger – then a freshman competing with current UGA quarterback Aaron Murray for a starting job – was arrested for allegedly groping a girl in a bar. He pled guilty to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery, and was dismissed from the Bulldogs.
This year will be the first time he sets foot in Sanford Stadium since the incident.
“They are going to boo the crap out of me, I might get a frickin’ brick thrown at me,” jokes Mettenberger, whose mother, Tammy, works at the UGA athletic department. “I always dreamed of playing between the hedges. Now, I will actually get that opportunity - just wearing purple and gold.”
Even with as much personal meaning as that Georgia game will have for Mettenberger, he knows that it is not the be-all-end-all for him. In fact, that trip to Athens is just the start of what will be a strenuous string of SEC match-ups, with LSU also traveling to Mississippi State and Ole Miss, and a visit from Florida in between. He can’t forget about Texas A&M and his first trip to Alabama, either.
The fact is, LSU may have the toughest schedule set up in the Southeastern Conference and if the Tigers are to push their streak of 10-win seasons to four straight years – and perhaps make a run at an SEC title – Mettenberger knows that his senior season has to be a big one.
The good news is that he has an idea of what to expect.
“I’m definitely more comfortable,” he said. “Last year, I had a lot of ups and downs in learning. I’ve learned a lot more getting comfortable with myself and with this team.”