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

do.”

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

title.

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

Hilliard.

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

game.”

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

assistant.

”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

Miles.”

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

running back.

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.”