LSU head coach Les Miles and quarterback Zach Mettenberger. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, October 24, 2013 9:21 AM
Zach Mettenberger has been a quarterback as far back as he can remember — junior high, high school, junior college, now LSU.
Never, at any level, had he ever thrown three interceptions in one game — until last week’s 27-24 upset loss at Ole Miss.
“Thanks for reminding me,” Mettenberger said with self-deprecating sarcasm. “No, that’s a first.”
Since the pick-riddled night, Mettenberger and head coach Les Miles have seemingly taken turns taking full blame for the loss.
But the three interceptions — all in the first half, two in the Ole Miss end zone, all in Rebels territory, two on first down — do stick out.
“This one’s on me,” Mettenberger said after the game.
The miscues seemingly came from nowhere in a season when Mettenberger has significantly raised his NFL stock under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. He’d thrown two interceptions in the previous seven games. He had only one other multi-interception game in his 20 career starts — two, last year against Ole Miss (five of his career 12 interceptions have come against the Rebels).
But Saturday, Mettenberger seemed to be Exhibit A for the team-wide impatience Miles complained about, as opposed to playing the game within the schemes.
“If you watch this film, you’re going to see a quarterback who’s trying to win the game with three or four throws that he shouldn’t have thrown,” Miles said. “All we have to do is fit into the scheme, do the things you need to do and check it down or make the play that’s described, and we’re good.”
Instead, with available options on underneath routes, Mettenberger tried to go deep into double and triple coverage on all three ill-advised throws.
“He wants to make the play,” Miles said. “Sometimes it takes 60 minutes to make that play. You’re not necessarily going to get that play when you call it. It depends on how they defend, how they cover. Then you’re going to make to make other choices.”
The three interceptions came in a span of four possessions as the Tigers were held scoreless in the first half against an injury-depleted Ole Miss defense.
“Bad decisions,” Mettenberger admitted. “I didn’t take what the defense was giving us. I got a little ahead of myself. I’ve got to learn from it.”
Mainly, that you can’t hit a home run every time.
“One of those plays was moderately open if he didn’t just heavy-arm it a little bit getting it out there,” Miles said of the interceptions.
“One was a definite force,” Mettenberger said. “The other two were just kind of bad throws.”
The first-down miscues were particularly damaging, killing promising drives. The other, for that matter, came on a favorable second-and-2.
“All of them bother you,” Mettenberger said. “No one likes throwing a pick, especially myself. I’m really critical of my play. It doesn’t matter, throwing a pick is never good.
“We can’t be impatient,” Mettenberger said. “Defenses are really game-planning us well … we’ve got to wait, check down, hit the underneath routes. They’re getting double (covered) one play, but maybe the next play they won’t. It was a lot of things we’ve been doing well this year. That kind of took us back a bit.”
Mettenberger vowed to put his first really subpar game behind him. And maybe he already has.
“The things he showed later in the game is how he could manage the game and take care of the football,” wide receiver Jarvis Landry said. “He got us back into a tie game.”
In the second half, Mettenberger shook off the picks to complete 12 of 22 for 172 yards as the Tigers rallied from a 17-0 deficit to tie the score at 24-all. Several of his second-half completions, including a key fourth-down conversion on the game-tying drive, came on the check-down routes he was seemingly ignoring early in the game.
“He’s our guy,” Miles said.