North Texas braces for LSU QB’s anticipated debut
When Zach Mettenberger predicted this would be the longest week
of his life, he wasn’t even talking about tropical weather from
Isaac that would bring life in south Louisiana to a standstill for
more than a day.
The quarterback for No. 3 LSU is entering his fourth year of
college football and finally makes his much anticipated debut as a
starter for a major program on Saturday night against North Texas
in Tiger Stadium.
”I’m definitely excited to finally be the guy,” said
Mettenberger, who spent a redshirt year at Georgia, a year in
junior college, and then last season as LSU’s third-stringer. ”I’m
tremendously just ecstatic about this opportunity I have to be a
starter for LSU. A lot of kids dream of being that guy and I
finally get a chance to go out there and showcase what I can
LSU is hoping Mettenberger, who coaches see as an exceptional
down-field passer, will provide the Tigers’ offense more of the
balance it lacked in a 21-0 loss to Alabama in last season’s
national championship game.
LSU had spent much of last season racking up 203 yards per game
on the ground while rolling to double-digit triumphs in 12 of its
first 13 games. But the Tigers could neither run nor throw the ball
against Alabama very effectively in either its tight overtime
victory over the Crimson Tide or its loss in the rematch for the
This season, LSU coach Les Miles expects LSU to be much better
in the passing game, as long as Mettenberger doesn’t put too much
pressure on himself to live up to those expectations.
”He needs to relax and let the game come to him,” Miles said.
”He shouldn’t have any anxiety about playing. He just needs to do
the things we ask him to do.”
If Mettenberger is as good as advertised, that should only make
things harder for opposing defenses that will still have to contend
with a Tigers’ running game that has its top four rushers back from
last season: Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Kenny
Miles has said that Blue and Hilliard have had the best August
camp and should expect the bulk of carries in the opener.
The Tigers’ potentially potent mix of a powerful ground game and
proficient passing game is part of the reason that LSU is a
six-touchdown favorite over the Mean Green, which is coming off of
a 5-7 campaign in 2011, which marked the beginning of the Dan
McCarney era at North Texas.
”LSU’s just got it all,” said McCarney, who knows from his
experience as a former defensive line coach for Florida, a
Southeastern Conference rival of the Tigers. ”They’re loaded with
talent, experience. Where they’re not experienced, there’ll still
be guys as good as there is in college football coming out of the
high school ranks.”
McCarney said he expects LSU to give Mettenberger a chance to
show what he can do for a variety of reasons, including North
Texas’ own lack of experience at cornerback.
”What we’re trying to do right now is be ready for what we keep
hearing, which is they’re going to be throwing the ball deep,”
McCarney said. ”They’re going to take shots. Why wouldn’t you? …
Both of our starting corners right now have never started a
Still, Miles has said he won’t veer too far from his run-first
philosophy, and McCarney believes him.
”The things you never get away from at LSU is the (physicality)
of the football team and running the football,” McCarney said. ”I
know it firsthand, and I know how physical they are. It starts up
front on the offensive line. Les Miles played on the offensive
line. He coached offensive line forever in his career as an
”They’re going to come off the ball on the snap of the ball and
hit you right in the mouth and play physical football,” McCarney
said. ”It’s always been that brand of football with coach
Then there’s the matter of how North Texas will try to move the
ball against and LSU defense that still has a talented secondary –
even after the dismissal of former Heisman finalist Tryann Mathieu
– and perhaps the most feared defensive end tandem in college
football: Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.
It could be a long day for North Texas junior quarterback Derek
Thompson. Other than receiver Brelan Chancellor, who is also a
threat in the return game, North Texas does not have a lot of
proven skill players on offense and virtually no experience at
Whatever happens, McCarney hopes his players will handle it with
more pride than he saw after their 41-0 loss at Alabama last year,
when he noticed defensive players in the back of the bus
light-heartedly talking about the experience of playing in a packed
and electric Bryant-Denny stadium, and who did not seem terribly
upset about losing.
”The environment was more important to talk about and what was
happening out there, and giggling and laughing, rather than getting
spanked … and embarrassing yourself and the football program,”
McCarney said. ”If we happen to lose this year, do I think that’s
going to happen on the back of our buses? No. I think we’ve matured
and I think we’ve come a long ways.”