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July 18, 2012

HURT: LSU turns to Mettenberger

It has been the great unanswered question since January.

Why, after it became clear Jordan Jefferson could not move the LSU offense in the Tigers' BCS championship loss to Alabama, did LSU head coach Les Miles not try something else? Why didn't he try some other alternative? Jarrett Lee? Russell Shepherd? Brad Wing, the Australian punter? Uncle Si from "Duck Dynasty?"

Nobody in Louisiana could have had less success than Jefferson had against the Crimson Tide defense. And as the offseason has worn on and LSU fans have grown progressively more excited about the prospect of having Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger under center, the question has become, more and more frequently, why not Mettenberger?

Finally, after six months, Miles hinted at a reason that had not previously been mentioned: Mettenberger "might have taken a few snaps" in the game had he not "injured his hand in bowl practice." That explanation from Miles at the SEC Media Days podium was news to a lot of people - including Mettenberger himself.

"Well, let's roll with it, I guess," Mettenberger said. "I did hit my hand on a helmet."

However, the injury registered so slightly for Mettenberger that he couldn't even recall if it happened in BCS preparations or in a late season game against Arkansas. He was also quick to note that "if my number had been called in the national championship game, I definitely would have been ready to play."

Regardless of precisely what happened in January, Mettenberger's number has definitely been called now. He may be the single pivotal player in college football this year, since LSU is considered a BCS contender once more and is stacked with talent at almost every other position.

By all accounts from Baton Rouge, Mettenberger had a strong spring and seems determined to put his unseemly exit from Georgia, where he entered a guilty plea to a sexual battery charge, behind him.

LSU, by the way, deserves high marks for making Mettenberger available to the media masses in Hoover. He answered repeated questions by saying he thinks about his exit from Georgia "every day" and that playing in Athens "just wasn't what God intended."

On the field, he will make LSU a different sort of offense.

"The quarterback won't run as much," Miles noted when asked to contrast Mettenberger and Jefferson. "We will throw the ball downfield more. We are very excited about Zach's ability to make the downfield throws."

Any sort of offensive spark will be welcome after the shutout loss in the BCS Championship Game. In perhaps his best one-liner of the day, Miles noted that he has watched the BCS game only "a couple of times" because "we didn't have very many offensive plays to watch."

Mettenberger could be that spark, combining an ability to make "all the throws," Miles said, with experience from two SEC stops and a season in junior college after leaving Georgia.

A word of caution, though: Don't expect LSU to become Air Mettenberger. There are still numerous large, powerful backs, a deep offensive line and a commitment to physical football.

"I don't care if we run it 100 times a game," he said. "I am not here just to pass the ball. I am here to win games."

Even if he didn't make it into the last one the Tigers played.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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