LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger on a roll heading back to Georgia

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger on a roll heading back to Georgia

September 25th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sportscollege

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

ATHENS, Ga. -- The return of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger to Georgia has been the dominant topic leading up to Saturday's showdown between the No. 6 Tigers and No. 9 Bulldogs, but Georgia's focus is on the player and not the player's past.

"We're not going to be worried so much that he's Zach Mettenberger as much as he's 6-foot-5 and 230-something pounds and can sling it," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said.

Mettenberger is guiding an offense under the direction of new coordinator Cam Cameron to productivity levels never before seen in Baton Rouge. He is the first LSU quarterback to throw for 10 touchdowns in the first four games of a season, and his 1,026 passing yards also are the most in school annals to this point.

His success has impacted an LSU offense that often has been inconsistent in the Les Miles era. For the first time ever, the Tigers have scored more than 30 points and amassed more than 400 yards in each of the first four games.

"I think Zach is really doing what we ask of him," Miles said. "He has earned so much with us. He's so accountable and so committed, giving great effort and leadership. All he has to do is go and do the things that we've asked him to do and be proud of what all he's accomplished and what all he's about to accomplish."

Mettenberger threw just 12 touchdown passes last season, when the Tigers ranked 11th in the SEC in passing offense (200.5 yards per game) and 10th in total offense (374.2). LSU currently is fifth in the league in passing (259.2) and sixth in total offense (480.2).

The Tigers threw for just 30 yards the last time they played Georgia in the 2011 SEC championship game, when Jordan Jefferson was their quarterback, but Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is expecting a much more balanced attack this time.

"It's called coaching," Grantham said. "Cam is an excellent quarterbacks coach, and he's got Zach playing really well. They've got great runners and very good wideouts, and they've got a big, physical offensive line. They've got athletic tight ends, so any time you've got athletes like that and you're not one-dimensional, it forces you to be balanced as a defense and leaves you in some one-on-one situations.

"It looks like they know where to throw the ball."

After playing the 2010 season at Butler Community College in Kansas and then trailing Jefferson and Jarrett Lee on LSU's depth chart two years ago, Mettenberger struggled early last season. Through the first six games, he had six touchdowns and three interceptions while suffering 15 sacks.

Mettenberger's first truly impressive performance came in the ninth game against top-ranked Alabama, when he competed 24 of 35 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown. That was the first of six occasions in the past nine games in which he has surpassed 250 yards.

"He can throw a rope when he needs to," Miles said. "He can put air underneath it when he needs to. He's so much more athletic. When we first got him, we felt like maybe he was a little too heavy, but he's trimmed down and gotten stronger.

"I think Cam is having a real impact on him."

Cameron came to LSU after spending the 2008-12 seasons as offensive coordinator of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. He was Indiana's head coach from 1997 to 2001 and was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2007.

The vastly improved Mettenberger is hoping to leave Athens much happier than he did in the spring of 2010, when he was dismissed from the program and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery. He had been battling Aaron Murray for the starting job, and Richt acknowledged Tuesday that Murray was a little more polished due to the offensive system he ran in high school.

Mettenberger said Monday night that he can't wait for Sunday to get here, so he and his teammates can stop addressing questions about the most difficult time in his life.

"It is unfair, the situation that my teammates and family are being put in and all of the crazy questions that people have to answer," Mettenberger said. "I should be the one that has to answer the questions. I don't want any outside media or spotlight on myself or my relationship with Georgia to take away from this game and the experience for all the other guys."

Said Murray: "I'm sure he's tired of talking about it. It's probably a distraction to him and their team, but as soon as everyone hits the field Saturday, all that talk is going to be gone."

And the Bulldogs will start dealing with a 6-5 quarterback who can sling it.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.