For the second time this month, a talented SEC quarterback's career came to a shocking end.
Only a week after Georgia senior Aaron Murray tore his ACL against Kentucky, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, who was once a teammate of Murray's at Georgia, suffered the same fate against Arkansas. Mettenberger's left knee bent back after he was hit by Arkansas defensive tackle Byran Jones in the fourth quarter of LSU's 31-27 win over the Razorbacks last Friday.
Like Murray, it was a sad way for Mettenberger to go out with the Tigers, especially after all the improvements he'd made on and off the field during his college career.
Known more for his dismissal from Georgia after he was arrested outside of a bar back in 2010, Mettenberger truly turned things around during his time with the Tigers. He stayed quiet off the field, and excelled on it. After an up-and-down first season as a starter in 2012, Mettenberger appeared to be in line to be an early pick in the 2014 NFL draft. He went from 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns with seven interceptions to 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns to eight picks in 2013. His QBR rose by nearly 40 points, he helped guide the Tigers to nine wins again, and he helped direct an LSU offense that ended the regular season averaging 465.9 yards per game.
Mettenberger stayed on the sideline during the Tigers' comeback win over Arkansas and was visibly moved after the game when he joined his teammates and LSU's band for one last song inside Tiger Stadium. Maybe he knew his LSU career was over. Maybe he was so overcome with the joy of winning and the sadness of leaving the purple and gold behind that tears were his only release.
Maybe it was all of the above, but to see the laid back, easy-going Mettenberger break down emotionally showed the college football world just how much he loved his team and the program that took a big chance on him.
His improvements under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron showed that, too. Mettenberger always had the physical tools and smarts to be an elite quarterback, but he knew he needed to be challenged. Cameron helped him see the field better and understand the game more. Mettenberger could have coasted because of his natural talent and the inexperience behind him, but he soaked up every drop of knowledge Cameron had in order to become a more well-rounded player.
He shed weight in order to move better in the pocket. He took to longer film room sessions. He became more of a vocal leader with his teammates. And he impressed in games, throwing for 200-plus yards in nine games in 2013, after failing to have back-to-back 200-yard outings last season until November.
While Mettenberger will miss LSU's bowl game, there are some positives for him and his team. There's a chance he could still throw at LSU's pro day next spring, and the Tigers will get another chance to see the future of the position: Anthony Jennings.
It was Jennings who calmly drove the Tigers 99-yards and won the game with a 49-yard touchdown pass against Arkansas after Mettenberger's departure. More practice and more game action can only benefit the freshman.
It'll be a bittersweet feeling for Mettenberger to watch his team play without him, but this season will go a long way to ensuring that his NFL future will be brighter than expected coming out of 2012. It's a long road back for Mettenberger, but he's been through this before.