Alright guys, with the news that Zach will be missing the bowl game, and probably a chunk of his NFL rookie season with a torn ACL, lets reflect on his all-too-brief tenure.
This just...sucks. Mettenberger played his ass off this season. He met, and surpassed expectations in just about every way and turned in one of the better quarterbacking seasons we've ever had here with 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 64.5 percent of his passes at a 10.4 yard clip. He led the SEC in passer rating and finished fourth nationally.
But more than anything, he was just one tough son of a bitch. Stood tall in the pocket and took some shots to make all those beautiful big plays to ODB and Juice. More importantly, he never gave up in any game. Whether it was matching Aaron Murray (another guy who's year ended on a sucky note) pass for pass in Athens or trying like hell to will his teammates back against Ole Miss and Bama. It just...sucks. I feel like we never got to know him as well as we should have.
I saw the news this morning while eating breakfast and my heart sunk.
Mett became an incredible leader this season and you could tell how much he progressed in one year. He took command of the offense and really embraced his role as its leader. If he made a mistake, he owned up to it and moved on, just like any good quarterback should. He understood the offense and played like he had been running this system for years. He worked really hard and it paid off in spades.
You always got the feeling that when something could go wrong that Mett was about to bail us out of a tight situation, and more often than not he did. The dude was insanely clutch on third down this year, which allowed us to control the tempo of games and wear down opposing teams. He kept his cool in difficult situations better than any LSU quarterback that I've watched play.
I agree with Billy. This sucks.
For me, Mettenberger's entire career can be summed up in three images. The first is the naked bootleg in the 2011 Ole Miss game where he dove for the end zone (and scored), despite the game being far out of hand at that point. He could have easily run out of bounds within the five-yard line, but he still fought for six, laying his body on the line when he didn't have to. Second, I don't think anyone can forget how got off the Bryant-Denny turf on all fours after taking three consecutive sacks in what was garbage time to everyone else, but was definitely not to him. The last image I'll ever have of Metteberger in an LSU uniform will be the oft-shared, Instagram-filtered picture of him singing the Alma Mater after the Arkansas game and his injury. Honestly I think it might be the most important one.
Mettenberger came to LSU as a castaway, someone who had done wrong in Athens and had to pay for it by not being allowed to pursue his dream job as Georgia's quarterback. We knew the physical tools he brought to the table, but in a lot of ways the oft-derided intangibles were certainly his most important feature. During the 2011 game in Oxford he proved was a strong, bull-headed player, one who fought for the extra inches on the field, even when he didn't have to. During this year's Alabama game, he proved that the game wasn't over if he was on the field, and he damn sure wasn't going to give the crowd in Tuscaloosa the satisfaction of seeing him helped off the field after he'd been beaten to hell. After the Arkansas game, he showed that he truly loves LSU, and for his development on and off the field, he'll always be one of my favorite players. None of us wanted to see it end this way for him, and God knows he didn't deserve it.
I'll save the historical posturing for later, because where Mett ranks amongst other LSU QBs isn't particularly important at this juncture.
If Mettenberger had to go down to injury, it had to be a play like the one he went out on. At times, the guy seemed indestructible. In his two seasons as a starter, he never received great pass protection, frequently took hit after hit and he just kept on coming. We love our heroes, and though football fans and media tend to over-romanticize "toughness," the image of Mettenberger crawling up to his feet and walking off the field in Tuscaloosa, head held high, is one that will endure. It'd have been easy for Mettenberger to mope, or simply mail it in after losing to Ole Miss. He could have entered self-preservation mode and concerned himself solely with staying healthy as he eyed the NFL draft. But that's not Zach Mettenberger. That's not his character. He just stands right back up and takes one more hit. Not because he likes it, but because he's going to give you everything he has. And after three seasons, two of which he started, I think we safely say we got everything from him. It's a shame he won't get to put a bowl-win cherry on his fine senior season.
I'll remember Mettenberger as a guy who truly treasured his second chance. He was rightfully kicked out of Georgia's program, and I don't want to minimize his crime. He had to redeem himself at JUCO and when he came to LSU, he took every opportunity to savor his second chance. He knew how close he came to losing everything, and it would have been entirely his own fault.
But at LSU, he wasn't a reckless kid. He was a bit of prankster, and you could tell he didn't take all of the trappings of being the star QB all that seriously. However, we shouldn't let that exterior fool us. He grew up into a man under Miles' tutelage. He wasn't the irresponsible punk who had no regard for others, he was a team leader whose lasting images will be of tenacity (refusing to be helped off the field against Bama) and leadership (his genuine high five given to Jennings). People can argue whether Zach deserved a second chance, but he certainly made the most of it. He became a better person, one that we can be proud to call a Tiger.
And that's worth more than however many TD's he threw.
Mett will be remembered by me in two words: Determination and Grit.
Even before his incident at Georgia, if you believe the stories he was in the lead or neck-and-neck with Aaron Murray for the starting quarterback job and picked up a number of fans after his spring game performance there. His time there was short-lived and Aaron Murray went on to take the helm, which he put up his own record numbers and unfortunately has to deal with the same thing Mett will now be dealing with. Most players would transfer to a JuCo and fade off into anonymity because they lose their will playing against lesser competition. Instead, Mett was determined to show he was one of the better quarterbacks and set out to make his presence felt, earning offers from a number of top-tier colleges before deciding on LSU.
His first year behind center was a a roller coaster of a season. There were games that made you scratch your head as to why he was so heavily recruited. Then he would give you a game like Alabama, where he was making throws that some NFL quarterbacks couldn't make, like the bullet on an out pattern to the right sideline from the left hashmark. You saw the potential but were always unsure if he was just going to rely on his arm the rest of the way. We soon found out that wasn't the case.
Before his senior season, new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron comes in and became a huge influence. Then you heard about all the huge summer workouts Mett had with Landry, Beckham and the other receivers. Even with that, you still had the skepticism of "Oh that's what every team drools over hearing things like that." Then they took the field and you saw all of those workouts and the in-depth time with Cameron was true. That was that determination again to see an opportunity to make a difference and he went in full-steam ahead.
LSU makes school history with having a duo of 1,000-yard receivers, Mett has the best season for a quarterback in a long time at LSU, and fans were excited about this high-powered offense, something that was becoming a rarity in Tiger Stadium. Then you saw the grit from him. Putting on his best show in the stadium he dreamed of playing in, getting hurt in the Florida game, but finishing that game and then not missing any time. The crawling after getting sacked numerous times at the end of the Alabama game. He then bounces back from that to have a solid game in beating an A&M team that many thought were going to come into Baton Rouge and smoke us.
Finally, you saw that determination once again, but not on the field. The two moments that will always stand out to me with him is the embrace that he gave Anthony Jennings after his touchdown pass, showing that he was a mentor to the kid and was so proud of what he just accomplished. And despite having a torn ACL, lifting his crutches in the air in celebration after the sack and fumble on Brandon Allen to ensure victory. It showed that this team was well above any individual accomplishment he had. It showed this team meant the world to him, for giving him that second chance to prove his worth.
When I woke up and saw the torn ACL diagnosis, my heart literally sunk. For a guy that, in two years time, rejuvenated a dying offense, brought laughs with his kung-fu celebration (something I always enjoyed seeing), and someone who had a profound respect for this school. I hope this is not a detriment for him and he can find success in the NFL because he deserves it.