Even the current king of LSU football has to take his turn on the throne once in a while.
At player interviews Tuesday, Mettenberger finished with the print/Internet Q and A and waited for the chair for TV interviews to clear.
While locked in his personal holding pattern, Mettenberger stretched his 6-foot-5 frame out on the turf of LSU’s indoor practice facility, whipped out his cell phone and started texting someone. If he had a pillow, you could have gotten decent odds he would have taken a nap.
I joked with him that if one of us reporters tripped on his Mett-ness and injured him, we’d never work in this business again.
“Well, you’d better be careful then,” said Mettenberger, who, like most 20-somethings quickly returned to his phone.
There isn’t a whole lot of intrigue or dramatic backdrop to this year’s LSU-Auburn game.
LSU goes to Auburn a three-touchdown favorite. No LSU team armed with Bert Jones or Kevin Faulk or Patrick Peterson or Gordy Rush has ever gone to Auburn as a three-touchdown favorite. LSU is way up here, No. 2 in the country and leading the Southeastern Conference in a handful of major statistical categories.
Auburn, meanwhile, continues to try to find its depth as a team and a program in the post-Cam Newton world. Unfortunately for the orange-and-blue Tigers (very blue these days), that depth has been a free fall to the bottom of as many SEC stat categories as LSU is on top. Mathematically, it’s a mismatch.
Auburn’s biggest lifeline may be the fact that so many weird things have happened in this series over the years — “The Earthquake Game,” “The Night the Barn Burned,” “The One-Second Touchdown Game,” etc. Unless this turns into “The Night an Alien Spaceship Landed at Jordan-Hare Stadium and Sucked Up the LSU Team in a Giant Vacuum Game,” Auburn looks like it’s in for a long night.
Of course, there’s also the hope for Auburn that Mettenberger will have a bad night in his first night on the road as a starting SEC quarterback.
Certainly, Mettenberger will have some butterflies playing touch football in his gut. He admitted this game, considering the setting and the circumstances of it being LSU’s SEC opener, brings added expectations from within and without.
“I want to make a great debut in my first SEC game,” Mettenberger said. “But really with me, I’m a pretty even-keeled guy. I’m the same week in and week out.”
That could be brushed off as some idle boast were it not for the recurring impression that Mettenberger comes equipped with some sort of backup coolant system in addition to the blood coursing through his veins.
The guy is as laid-back as a guy laying on the turf waiting to go in front of a battery of TV cameras (which freaks out more than a few football players every year). He may lose a series or eventually a game, but he seems unlikely to lose his cool.
Mettenberger’s junior college coach was once reviewing film for a game with him when he stopped and snapped for Zach to pay attention.
“I’d say, ‘All right, Zach, focus,’ and he’d say, ‘Coach, I’m focused,’ ” Butler (Kan.) Community College coach Troy Morrell recalled. “It was hard for me to realize that’s the way he is.”
Mettenberger’s current coach has seen enough after three games to know he’s focused.
“I think he’s dialed in,” Les Miles said.
Neither Mettenberger nor Miles were willing to provide intricate details of LSU’s game plan. But you don’t have to be John Heisman (who once coached at Auburn) to know what LSU will do offensively.
Even without Alfred Blue, LSU will lean on Auburn’s last-in-the-SEC rush defense with its SEC-leading running game. What passing Mettenberger is asked to do isn’t likely to be too dangerous — at least to start. If he surpasses his season-high of 22 passes last week against Idaho, well, that may be the only upset of the night.
“Coach Stud (offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa) and coach Miles are doing a great job with the game plan to get in things early we’re going to be successful at and get him comfortable with his passes,” center P.J. Lonergan said. “We have to step up as an offensive line and really do a good job protecting (Mettenberger).”
As long as Mettenberger doesn’t spend too much time laying out on the turf Saturday like he did Tuesday, LSU, like its quarterback, shouldn’t have too many worries.