Mettenberger not feeling pressure

LSU's lone missing ingredient in 2011 was quarterback, but transfer keeps cool

Updated: August 30, 2012, 12:02 PM ET
By Gary Laney | GeauxTigerNation

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Zach Mettenberger came out for his last media interviews on Monday before LSU opens its 2012 football season against North Texas looking almost, well, bored.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Spruce Derden/US PresswireZach Mettenberger has only thrown 11 passes in college but is expected to dramatically improve LSU's passing offense.
He's the most-anticipated new starting quarterback in college football, the guy who carries with him the expectation of being the one piece that was missing from what was otherwise a darn near perfect college football team a season ago. LSU, 13-1 after its 21-0 failure against Alabama in the BCS championship game, was so good, yet so obviously inept (100th out of 120 teams Division I teams) at throwing the ball.

And here was Mettenberger, the guy who, by fans' expectations, is supposed to single-handedly erase that lone flaw to make the Tigers a national champion -- and he looked ready to give a big yawn as he answered all the same questions he's been hearing constantly since January, when he said he took ownership of the LSU offense after the BCS game.

Worried about the expectations? Not Mettenberger.

"It's not really my personality," he said almost dismissively. "Football is just a game."

Just a game? But this is LSU. This is a place that has entered the elite of the elite in the college game. It's a place where football is a business that is so successful, it pays for itself and helps pay for the school in general. It's a place where football provides a source of pride for not just a campus, but an entire state.

They love their football heroes in Louisiana. If you fail to live up to those expectations … well, ask Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, who took turns hearing boos in Tiger Stadium despite combining to lead the Tigers to 41 wins in four years.

The expectations for Mettenberger are higher than they were for his predecessors despite the fact that the fourth-year junior has thrown just 11 college passes and has never taken a meaningful Division I snap.

Physically, at 6-foot-5, 222 pounds with a strong, accurate arm, he's what you want. Just ask his own team.

Odell Beckham, Jr., likely Mettenberger's go-to receiver this season, said he is a "first-rounder," speaking of his future pro status. His coach, Les Miles, has already promised LSU will be more "efficient" passing the ball with a quarterback who has only started in junior college than it was last season with two seniors with a combined eight varsity letters and a combined 50 college starts. If the players and coaches are that optimistic, imagine what fans are thinking.

"I know the die-hards take it very seriously, but I'm not going to beat myself up over making mistakes," Mettenberger said. "It's just part of the game. It's all about how you react and how you bounce back and I'm not going to stress out over a little thing and football is a little thing."

Little thing? His coach loves that perspective.

"I think that's solid," Miles said, loving that his quarterback is not carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

"Football is important," Miles added. "Being able to keep it in its own place and still be able to study and still be able to have some fun and still be able to enjoy life, I think that's how you're supposed to do it."

There was a time when Mettenberger was having too much fun.

He was kicked off his first college team, Georgia, after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from an incident with a coed at a bar. Since then, he said, he's worked on his maturity, first at Butler Community College, where he led his team to the NJCAA national championship game as a redshirt freshman, then as a third-stringer last year for LSU.

Part of the maturation was embracing the process. Find out what needs to be done. Do the work to make sure the goals are achieved. If you are prepared, you will succeed.

"The coaches have done a good job getting us ready and I feel that I've done a lot of extra work to be even more ready," he said. "To be honest, I'm ready to get out there and finally be the starting quarterback of LSU and definitely take advantage of this opportunity."

Mettenberger is mature enough to know he has prepared. He's also got perspective enough to know that's all one can ask for. So, a week before his first LSU start, from his perspective, there were no worries.

"It's not like my mom has cancer or anything like that," he said. "It's not like something I'm really going to worry about a lot."

When Miles hears that, he hears a quiet confidence he wants from his quarterback. He cares enough to prepare, detached enough not to sweat pressure.

"I think there's got to be balance," Miles said. "Maybe, he's got that."

Gary Laney | email

Reporter, GeauxTigerNation