COLUMN: In his own time

Through eight games the book on Zach Mettenberger wasn't flattering. But, beginning with the 'Bama game, the first-year starter has found a groove. The result is an improved LSU offense.

The time has come to heap sufficient praise on a guy who caught a lot of flak through the first eight starts of his LSU career.

Zach Mettenberger, heir to the Tiger quarterback throne surrendered disgracefully by Jordan Jefferson late in the evening of Jan. 9, 2012, didn't win many fans over between the first of September and second of November this fall.

It was a foregone conclusion before the season began that Mettenberger would be an upgrade from Jefferson and, for that matter, Jarrett Lee. Prevailing thought was that he almost had to be.

Things didn't quite look that way as the Tigers navigated through the opening portion of the 2012 slate. LSU's No. 8, who had been dubbed the "Mettsiah" by many in Tiger Nation before even starting a game, struggled.

Mettenberger exceeded 200 yards passing in only two of the Tigers' first eight contests, against lowly Idaho and Towson. He was also sacked by defenders 22 times during that stretch. Add in the fact that the passing game was non-existent for much of the Florida loss (Mett threw for 158 yards and a pick in The Swamp), and there was a fairly heavy amount of grumbling about a player who wasn't meeting expectations.

Turns out he just needed some time to get warmed up.

Beginning Nov. 3, when LSU hosted Alabama in Tiger Stadium, the light went off for Mettenberger. Following the bye week, the former Georgia Bulldog turned LSU Tiger played like a different man, one full of confidence and all the better from some seasoning – good and bad – in SEC play.

He lit up the top-ranked Tide in the second half, en route to rolling up 298 total passing yards and a touchdown while completing 68.6% of his attempts. Simply put: Mettenberger kept LSU on the field most of final 30 minutes, converting third down after third down through the air on the nation's No. 1 defense.

"The receivers, the offense and I knew we were fully capable of that all year," Mettenberger said following the game. "There are finally things that are clicking for us."

And finally, even if it came in a heartbreaking loss, LSU faithful saw a lot of what they expected (or maybe better put, hoped for) from Mettenberger, just two seasons away from torching the JuCo ranks.

The focus for many than quickly turned to the Mississippi State game, and Mettenberger was going to be tasked with the only thing more difficult than achieving success. Sustaining it.

Could Metteberger prove against another quality SEC defense that he had turned the corner?

I think we got our answer.

He completed 19 of his 30 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns, again with no interceptions, pacing an offensive attack that ultimately posted 37 points on the Bulldogs (with a little help from Craig Loston).

Suddenly a guy who hadn't thrown for more than 169 yards against an SEC team eclipsed the 200-yard mark twice in two weeks. Against ranked opponents.

His head coach has certainly taken notice. Said Miles following the Mississippi State win: "It takes some time to get everyone on [the same] page and on pace. I think Zach has that. I think he knows where he wants to go with the ball. He had some nice touch on the ball, the way he uncorks it and makes all the throws. I think our receivers are now in a spot where there is a real chemistry developing there. It will continue. I think that Zach is ambitious."

Continued Miles on Mett, the passing game and the team in general: "There is a fundamental feeling in this stadium and in our football building that we are just catching speed."

For Mettenberger, catching speed was a multi-tier process.

It started with getting a stable offensive line in front of him. Chris Faulk went down, Josh Williford went down and Alex Hurst went away. That early-season issue that plagued the offense began to resolve itself during the South Carolina game. Since, fill-ins Josh Dworaczyk, Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander, respectively, have been fantastic. They took care of one leak in the passing game's dam.

The next area in which the passing game was taking on water was with the play of the receivers and the trust Mettenberger had with the corps. Might be a wee bit early to proclaim this for good, but that seems have rectified itself starting early in the second half against Alabama. Jarvis Landry, Kadron Boone, James Wright and Odell Beckham each had a part in moving the chains with regularity.

From there confidence, which can be a powerful thing with a first-year starting quarterback trying to get his bearings, has taken over. As a result LSU has been a different offense, one much improved and more balanced.

"You're seeing the coaches have more confidence in us," Mettenberger recognized late Saturday night. "They are mixing it up, more run-pass, and being more balanced. Guys are making plays, having confidence and having fun out there."

Dworaczyk, one of the wily veterans on the offense, made a keen observation of his own after the Tigers' 20-point win over State.

"Honestly right now Zach is someone who we're living off of, the way he's playing," explained LSU's starting left tackle. "At the same point in time, the running game is still very well established. We were able to win some games there earlier in the year. Now for Zach to be able to spread the field and get those passes, it's awesome."

Now that's what people wanted to see from Mettenberger entering the season – a player who could finally win games for LSU through the air again when need be.

Well, he did it this weekend and he darn near did it the previous one, too. It's been a while since that was the case with an LSU signal caller.

He may not necessarily be the Mettsiah, but he is turning into exactly what his offense needs.

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