BATON ROUGE, La. – Maybe Zach Mettenberger is the man LSU’s faithful and coaches thought he could be.
Maybe it took him this long to get settled and comfortable in the program.
Maybe the future is bright after all.
And maybe Mettenberger’s past prepared him for the present.
Saturday night, he put together his second consecutive bright performance in guiding No. 7 LSU to a 37-17 win over No. 21 Mississippi State.
It was a far cry from where he was just a few weeks ago.
The junior quarterback took a pounding from fans and columnists and armchair quarterbacks for the first eight weeks of the season and yet, kept going.
He never lost his confidence and never lost his composure.
“I’ve always said I’m a guy who can take the criticism,” Mettenberger said late into the night, not long after compiling a 273-yard, two-touchdown night. “I’d rather me get criticized than some other guys on this team. I don’t want them to go through that. Just from my past and being through all that I’ve been through, I feel like I can handle it.”
Indeed, Mettenberger was supposed to the University of Georgia’s next great college quarterback. He was recruited to battle with Aaron Murray to become the next David Greene or the next Matt Stafford.
Instead, he was booted from the program in 2010 after being arrested outside of a bar in Remerton, Ga., after allegedly fondling a woman’s breasts and backside. He also was charged with underage drinking, possessing a fake ID and disorderly conduct. He eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery with the other charges being dropped.
He never played a down for the Bulldogs
But from those depths Mettenberger emerged, steadily building to the past two weeks. In the past six quarters, he has thrown for 477 yards and three touchdowns. He hasn’t thrown an interception.
He nearly led LSU to an upset of then-No. 1 Alabama, playing the mistake-free kind of football that the Tigers haven’t seen from the quarterback position in years.
His decision-making has improved, taking the potential he had coming in and turning it into positive kinetic energy.
That has suddenly pulled in this kind of praise for the always quotable Les Miles.
“He has a nice touch on the ball,” said Miles, LSU’s coach. “He knows where he needs to go. He is making quality decisions.”
In Week 10, Mettenberger is finally where those who hailed his signing as the arrival of the savior thought and expected him to be.
“He’s at a hot streak right now,” LSU center P.J. Lonergan said. “I think that’s something Zach and the fans and really everybody have been waiting on all season and it’s good to finally see him get in that rhythm.”
“The things that he’s done and overcame this past few weeks, about all the criticism, I can’t say enough about him,” said receiver Jarvis Landry, Mettenberger’s favorite target against Mississippi State with nine catches for 109 yards and a touchdowns.
His teammates have seen these performances before. Safety Eric Reid said what everyone has been seeing the past two weeks is what he has been doing in practice. Linebacker Kevin Minter went a step further, saying Mettenberger eats the defense up in 7-on-7 sessions.
That, however, wasn’t what people were seeing early on this season, when he wasn’t moving the offense efficiently and when he was seemingly a turnover and bad-decision machine.
But thanks to what he went through in 2010, he was prepared for anything lobbed his way, including on-field blitzes and off-the-field verbal abuse.
“That’s the role of every quarterback,” Mettenberger said. “You’re always going to get too much glory for a win and you’re always going to get too much criticism for a loss. That’s just how it is. It’s all about how you deal with it and handle it.”
Mettenberger has handled it well.
Because of it, LSU’s future looks bright.