Back in September, as Zach Mettenberger limped out to a bit of a sluggish start, I wrote a piece on unrealistic expectations. Only one game into the young season, LSU fans were set afire about Mettenberger, his "disappointing" play and how LSU, again, lacked sufficient talent at the QB position.
Remarkably, the things I wrote as signs of optimism in September... proved true.
Further, Mettenberger exhibited a poise in the pocket. He stood tall, scanned the field, made big throws and took a few (too many) big hits.
Though, what may really distinguish Mettenberger is the proper level of confidence. He carries himself as a team leader and with even a bit of swagger. Yet, he's able to critique his own play in post-game press conferences. It's striking that right balance, something we never saw the previous four seasons.
It's only two notes, but two distinct positives you could see early on from Mettenberger. I concluded the piece, "Relax, Tiger fans. Good things are to come."
Yet, many of those things took longer than even I expected. By late October, things looked shaky. Mettenberger's numbers hadn't improved and his confidence, one thing that seemed a constant, looked shaky. Hindsight being 20/20, we can now look back and recognize that a lot of other issues likely lead to his struggles, name the routine shuffling of the offensive line in the first few weeks of the season. In just one season, Mettenberger's blind side endured three different protectors. His right guard and right tackle changed. His center, even, withstood some fluctuation. In fact, the only constant on the offensive remains La'el Collins. Lesser teams, and lesser players, can be sunk by such changes. Although the changes prohibited the LSU offense from soaring, they endured only two losses, both to top 5 teams.
Offensive line issues weren't the only challenge Mettenberger faced. Early on, Mettenberger's wide receivers struggled. In fact, there isn't a wide receiver on the team that didn't face some battle with the drops at some point this season (if not still battling it). When you are a young (experience wise) QB developing on the fly, wide receivers need to rise up and make plays for you. Early on, that simply was not happening. Even now, there is no legitimate no. 1 threat in the LSU offense. Jarvis Landry is now the most reliable of the targets, but even he faces issues (such as a drop and a fumble last week vs. Ole Miss). The WR play is a work in progress that won't be completely upgraded until 2013.
Those two factors largely contributed to his struggles, particularly in October. If you review the numbers, the picture becomes clearer.
|Month.||Completions||Attempts||Average Completion %||Average Rating||Average YPA||Yards||TD||INT|
His numbers in September* are clearly the strongest, but they are also against the most inferior competition. As3 Mettenberger entered SEC competition (only one SEC game in September) in October, his numbers took a sharp decline. His completion percentage dropped by 20%. His Rating dropped by 70 points. His YPA sank by over three yards. He did, however, face his steepest competition (strong defenses from Florida and South Carolina).
*Note: 5 games in September, 3 each in October and November.
Yet, in November, he responded. The numbers in October suggest a player spiraling toward the Jordan Jefferson/Jarrett Lee level of ineffectiveness. Instead, Mettenberger, facing his strongest opponent of the season, stood up to the task, putting together a masterful performance against Alabama. He's now pieced together three consecutive 250+ ypg performances, something not done in LSU history in quite some time.
Forget the statistics, though. Most promising about Mettenberger over the past month? He's in control. Watch the games and you'll see it. Mettenberger is the calm, controlled leader of the offense. In October, he struggled when taking big hits. The contact quite obviously altered the quality of his throws. By November, that no longer took effect. Mettenberger stood tall in the pocket, took big shots and still delivered the football.
Against Ole Miss, on multiple occasions, the porous play of the defense tasked him with the duty of answering. Each time, he did. He took a nasty shot that took him off the field for a play, only to return and lead LSU to victory. That type of emblematic leadership and toughness commands respect amongst teammates.
The Zach Mettenberger who takes the field today is not the same guy who took the field in early October. He's grown, he's improved, he's worked hard. The talents which could be seen as early as Spring Practice are now manifesting themselves every weekend, as Mettenberger takes the reigns of this offense and leads it higher and higher. Though the chances for a National Title are remote in 2012, the building blocks for a dominant 2013 offense are already in place. Add a couple of tall JUCO WR prospects to this offense with further OL experience and all the RBs returning and suddenly you aren't just looking at a competent offense that can support a dominant defense but a dominant defense that may outperform the defense in 2013.
Early in 2013, fans and media expected Mettenberger to step onto the field and immediately lead the LSU to heights unexperienced the previous four seasons. Yet, the developments occurred slowly. Mettenberger underperformed. The offense struggled. Fan grew discontent. By October the offense looked as it always does... good running game, stagnant passing game, let's hope we can survive.
Yet, heading into Arkansas a new animal emerges. The offense of November pits a more than competent passing game with a dominant rush attack. The result is an offense capable of striking quickly, wearing opponent's down, working the clock... in short, doing whatever we need them to do.
Not all transitions are easy. But for Zach Mettenberger, the transition is nearing completion.