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Originally published Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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LSU quarterback familiar with the heat

A lot is expected this year out of Zach Mettenberger

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Zach Mettenberger and Keith Price will meet again Saturday night, a few months after they spent time together working as counselors at the Manning Passing Academy.

The camp was held in Thibodaux, La., about an hour or so from Baton Rouge, where Mettenberger now spends his days as the quarterback for the Louisiana State Tigers.

During one of their conversations this summer, Price remarked to Mettenberger how hot and humid it was.

Mettenberger responded that it wasn't going to change by the time the Huskies and Tigers meet up Saturday night.

"I told him to get used to it," Mettenberger said.

And Mettenberger knows of what he speaks when it comes to experiencing heat.

Last Saturday, the junior got his first taste of the white-hot spotlight that is being the starting quarterback for the Tigers. It was a somewhat sluggish outing that included taking a huge hit on a blitz that left him dazed and resigned to the sidelines for a few series.

"Yeah, that hit wasn't particularly how I wanted my first game to go," Mettenberger said in a phone interview. "I'm just lucky I didn't get seriously injured and I was able to come back and make a couple of plays."

Mettenberger returned to finish 19 of 26 passing for 192 yards, with a touchdown and an interception in LSU's 41-14 victory over North Texas.

As the score indicates, LSU had the game comfortably in hand from the start, and Mettenberger largely handed off (the Tigers gained 316 yards rushing) or threw safe passes.

Eventually, though, he'll be called on to do more — maybe even Saturday against the Huskies — and produce in the manner that was expected when he was considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the Class of 2009.

Mettenberger, however, stepped into a much more uncomfortable glare after signing with Georgia in 2009. In the spring of 2010, he was arrested outside a bar after allegedly grabbing the breasts and buttocks of a woman, and also charged with underage consumption and possession of alcohol, possession of fake identification and disorderly conduct/obstruction. He eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery (the alcohol-related charges were dropped) and was dismissed from the Georgia team.

He spent the fall of 2010 at Butler (Kan.) Community College, wondering if he'd ever play major-college football again.

"I worried about that a little bit with the trouble I got into," he said. "But I tried not to worry about it too much and just go out there and have fun and play."

Throwing for 32 touchdowns at Butler and just four interceptions reopened any previously closed doors as Mettenberger was generally acclaimed as the top junior-college quarterback in the country and again had schools clamoring for his services. He chose LSU, knowing in part that seniors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee would depart after the 2011 season.

"It's definitely a second chance," Mettenberger said. "Not a lot of guys get the opportunity to be a starter at one SEC school and get in trouble and then finish at another one."

Mettenberger stands 6 feet 5 and weighs 222 pounds, and any description of his play inevitably includes the phrase "pocket passer."

"Big guy, strong-armed," said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. "He could be similar to the kid at Oregon State (Sean Mannion), big guys who can really throw the ball down the field. Maybe a Nick Foles-type (Foles played at Arizona last year). He's not going to move around a whole lot in the pocket, but he will stand in there and deliver the ball down the field."

That's what LSU fans envisioned when he took over, that Mettenberger could give the Tigers a deep-passing game that was largely missing last year and was the team's one real weakness despite a run to the national title game.

LSU again has a potent running game with an offensive line averaging more than 320 pounds and a bevy of talented backs.

With LSU's receivers regarded as potentially an upgrade, Mettenberger might allow LSU to stretch the field more, and that is one reason voters again pegged the Tigers near the top of the polls despite some significant losses on defense.

Mettenberger, though, says he's fine if he never has to throw the ball.

"I feel like this team, we can run the ball 100 times a game and never pass it and be very, very good," he said.

It's also a very, very good way to take the heat off.

NOTES

• The Huskies practiced in Seattle on Thursday morning and then traveled to LSU in the afternoon. They will have a walk-through in Baton Rouge on Friday, though not at Tiger Stadium.

• Sarkisian said every player on the depth chart for this week is good to go, with the only possible question mark being backup cornerback Greg Ducre, who sprained his foot Wednesday. Sarkisian said it's not considered serious and he should be able to play.

• Sarkisian also said RT Ben Riva will be out four to six weeks with a broken forearm suffered Saturday. The team had Riva undergo some tests early in the week to make sure there was nothing more to the injury than was thought.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @bcondotta

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