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Mettenberger ready for challenge, pressure of being LSU quarterback

by | CBSSports.com
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Mettenberger began his career at Georgia before making a stop at Butler Community College. (US Presswire)  
Mettenberger began his career at Georgia before making a stop at Butler Community College. (US Presswire)  

THIBODAUX, La. -- Hey, Zach Mettenberger. No pressure. I promise.

You've started a grand total of zero games at quarterback in your FBS playing career. You've thrown 11 passes in your LSU career. And all you're expected to do is lead the Tigers to an undefeated season and a national championship without ever having taken a significant snap.

Talking to Mettenberger at the Manning Passing Academy, you wouldn't know the pressure exists or affects him.

"It's fun to go out there and be 'the guy' and toss it around the yard at Tiger Stadium," Mettenberger said.

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Being 'the guy' has been an arduous, stressful journey for the 6-foot-5, 222-pound junior who's size and rocket arm has those in Baton Rouge thinking back to the days when JaMarcus Russell and Rohan Davey used to shred defenses in the passing game. Mettenberger admitted he had doubts through his detours from Georgia to Butler Community College and then to LSU that he may never become a starting quarterback at the FBS level.

He threw for 2,678 yards along with 32 touchdowns and only four interceptions in his one season at Butler, leading the team to the JUCO national championship game. Mettenberger did at least practice for more than a year against one of the best defenses in LSU history.

"If I can do well against those guys in practice, I'm sure I can do pretty well in the games," Mettenberger said.

That's the sentiment LSU coach Les Miles and every Bayou Bengal fanatic hopes translates to Saturdays this fall considering LSU hasn't had a consistent and potent passing attack since Matt Flynn, who, by the way, guided LSU to the 2007 national championship.

Even Mike the Tiger knew despite LSU's undefeated season leading up to the loss to Alabama in the BCS title game that the Tigers' quarterback situation was a mess. The latest EA Sports' commercial pumping up NCAA Football 2013 has the lovable mascot sitting on a couch playing on a game console as LSU against the Crimson Tide. Robert Griffin III was his quarterback and not Jordan Jefferson or Jarrett Lee.

Miles comes in the room and literally rips the shirt off Mike the Tiger's back in shame. Well, here's how the commercial should have been scripted. Miles should have thrown the mascot out the room, sat down and then played with Griffin as his quarterback. He'd then say, "Wow! This is what happens with a real passing game."

Or, Miles could have played the game with Mettenberger instead. It's what many in Baton Rouge will forever be asking after watching the lifeless LSU offense bumble its way to a national championship defeat in its own back yard of New Orleans last January.

"That's something that no one wants to experience," Mettenberger said. "I mean, shoot, Tom Brady has won three Super Bowls, but he's also lost two Super Bowls. ... It's tough. You never want to do that again. But hopefully we can be every bit good as we were last year and get back to that game and win it."

All Mettenberger could do was sit back and watch Alabama eat up Jefferson.

Mettenberger said "without a doubt" he was ready to play in the BCS Championship Game had Miles put him on the Superdome turf.

"As a competitor, you want to play," Mettenberger said. "But the two guys we had were playing good football. They were efficient quarterbacks all year. And, shoot, we were 13-0 at the time. It's hard to say woulda, coulda, shoulda had I played and it would have been different. But at the time, it was best for the team. ... I was very sure of myself and I thought I was capable of leading the team. But we had two guys who have played plenty of SEC football and won a lot of football games. So we were going to roll with them and we had a great season."

Gone now are those concerns of who should take snaps under center in Tigerland. Other than being the most recognizable face in Baton Rouge now, Mettenberger said he relished the spotlight and the chance to shine for one of college football's powerhouses.

Miles has been relentless in saying how much LSU's offense will open up with Mettenberger at quarterback. Mettenberger isn't necessarily thinking he'll throw the ball 60 times per game from the onset, though.

"I can't play out of myself," Mettenberger said. "I don't need to go out there and be a Superman every play of the game. I just need to go out there and get the ball in playmakers' hands. Be a game manager, but make plays from time to time."

It's the same route good friend -- and also ultimate rival -- Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron said when he began last season. And yet LSU saw firsthand McCarron's progression once Nick Saban opened up the passing playbook for the Crimson Tide leader.

"The biggest thing was just growing as a leader," McCarron said. "The first few games I had to kind of get in touch with the game and kind of learn it."

McCarron may not anticipate Mettenberger being that game-manager type of player. McCarron said it's not Mettenberger's style.

"Zach's a crazy head," McCarron said. "He's as wild as they come."

Mettenberger scoffed at that description from McCarron, saying that reputation comes from being a jokester. But he doesn't scoff at being the leader for a young LSU squad. He said how he'll run the offense will all depend on what the coaches trust him with, but it's obvious by talking to him that he wants to come in and, in his words, throw it around the yard.

"I definitely trust my abilities as a quarterback," Mettenberger said.

Trust this. It's exactly what LSU fans want to hear after more than enough years of holding their breath on every pass thrown.

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