When a team fumbles a snap, oftentimes it’s hard to determine who’s at fault.
In the heat of the moment, those types of mistakes leave fans, coaches and media scrambling to point the finger at someone, and frequently, there’s no real way to figure out who that someone is.
So was the case Saturday when LSU fumbled at the Auburn 1-yard line. With second-string center Elliott Porter in the game for injured senior PJ Lonergan, Zach Mettenberger failed to handle the snap, and Auburn ended up with possession.
Replays showed Porter may have snapped it a tad too early, and the ball squirted through Mettenberger’s unprepared grasp. But days after the game, many still weren’t certain what happened, and it seemed like everyone involved had a different answer.
Porter and Mettenberger each placed at least a part of the responsibility on themselves. Porter called it a miscommunication. Mettenberger said he should have kept his hands under center longer.
LSU coach Les Miles credited Porter’s inexperience for the mishap.
“He didn’t really understand the cadence and what’s going on,” Miles said. “That’s something that’s easily fixed. He will be better at it.”
Porter, a sophomore, said it’s experiences like those that allow him to grow, and at this point in his young career, he’s willing to embrace any lesson that comes his way. But four games into his first season eligible to play for LSU, Porter has already gotten more reps and playing time than most would have expected.
Porter has seen action in all four games this season, including his first career start against Idaho. Porter played 39 snaps against the Vandals, sharing time with Lonergan, who needed time to let some nagging injuries heal.
So when Lonergan went down again with a leg injury early against Auburn, Porter wasn’t exactly stepping into unchartered territory. Though he spends most of his practice time working with fellow second-teamer Stephen Rivers, Porter didn’t want to let his lack of preparation with Mettenberger be an excuse for the fumble.
“I get to work with him enough, enough so that mistakes shouldn’t happen,” Porter said. “I blame the most on me.”
With Towson coming into Baton Rouge this weekend, it’s likely Porter will get another chance to redeem himself from the Auburn miscue. Though Lonergan said he’s healthy enough to play, Miles may opt to let him rest, with the Tigers’ return to Southeastern Conference play looming in less than two weeks.
“We’ll have to see. It’s all in the coaches’ hands,” Porter said. “It’s always helpful to get experience and learn things. Especially when a mistake happens. It’s the way to learn about high-level football.”
For Porter, that time on the field has been a long time coming.
Rated as a top-20 prospect in Louisiana out of Shaw High School, Porter participated in summer workouts with LSU and appeared poised to challenge for early playing time. But weeks before the start of his freshman season in 2010, Porter became a casualty of oversigning and a posterchild for criticism against an ugly reality of college recruiting.
Instead of accepting a grayshirt that would allow him to stay on the team if he paid his own way, Porter instead opted to transfer to Kentucky, hoping there he’d find a faster route to the field.
But the Wildcats weren’t the team he’d grown up rooting for. He had relatives that wore purple and gold, not blue and white.
Lexington just wasn’t home.
“I had to make a decision,” Porter said. “The decision (to go to Kentucky) was a bad decision. I ended up coming back. How it happened was unfortunate, but I came back, and I’m happy to be here.
“Kentucky wasn’t the place for me. LSU is the place for me. That’s hands-down. I always will be a Tiger.”
And now that he is, Porter has already begun to realize the goals he set for himself heading into this season. He said he simply wanted to perform well when called upon, that he understood his chances would be sparse, but that executing those rare opportunities would set his future on the right course.
And though he learned the hard way that those inevitable mistakes do happen, Porter has received high praise from his teammates.
“Elliott is a great center,” fellow offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk said. “He kept his head up, and we’re going to look for him to be a great playmaker in the future.”
Porter already is looking forward. With Lonergan graduating after this season, Porter is the heir-apparent at center. He understands that for 2013 to become what he expects, he must embrace every success — and failure — in 2012.
“Next year will definitely be my year,” Porter said. “I have to take as much experience as this year can give me.”