BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — After spending most of his young life cherishing every moment in Georgia's Sanford Stadium, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger can't wait until his next visit is done and over with.
"I'm looking forward to Sunday morning tremendously," said Mettenberger, who left the Bulldogs in disgrace in 2010. "There's just so much put into this game that has nothing with the game that actually goes on between the snap and the whistle. The worst part is my mom has to deal with a lot of this stuff, too, and that's just unfair."
The senior quarterback took the unusual step of addressing the sixth-ranked Tigers about his Georgia homecoming before Monday's practice.
"I don't want any outside media or spotlight on myself or my relationship with Georgia to take away from this game and the experience for all the other guys," he said.
Although Mettenberger prefers not to dwell on how intensely personal this week's matchup with No. 9 Georgia is for him, it's also hard to deny it.
After all, it's not every week that a quarterback faces the very program he revered as a kid, and for which his mother would be working this week if Georgia coach Mark Richt hadn't given her some time off to escape the limelight.
"It'd be awkward for her to be hanging around," Richt said of Tammy Mettenberger, adding that he told her to just try and enjoy a week off at a time when she doesn't normally get one.
Even for Richt, it's personal. He watched Zach grow up in the football operations building, where Tammy Mettenberger has worked since her son was 8 years old. He remembers a young Zach visiting his mom at work, often wearing Georgia red, being on the field on game days and meeting his players. Richt later gave him a scholarship, but then had to dismiss him when the redshirt freshman quarterback was embroiled in legal trouble over his treatment of a woman at a bar not long after 2010 spring practice.
"We all really like Zach and want the best for him, but just don't want him to win the game this weekend," Richt said.
Richt also said he did not intend to bring up the Mettenberger storyline with his players, but rather would talk about him like any other opposing quarterback.
"We're not going to be worrying about, 'He's Zach Mettenberger,' so much as he's 6-foot-5, 230-whatever-he-is, and can sling it," Richt said.
In this young season, Mettenberger is on pace to have one of the best seasons ever by an LSU quarterback.
His 10 scoring passes and 1,026 yards passing are the most an LSU QB has posted through four games. Earlier this season, his five scoring passes against UAB set an LSU single-game record. He ranks second in the SEC in passing efficiency, behind only Georgia's Aaron Murray, his former teammate.
When LSU last played Georgia in the 2011 SEC title game, Mettenberger was a third-string quarterback in his first year with the Tigers after transferring from junior college. He didn't play a snap, but remembers a number of Bulldogs fans expressing their opinions about him in the Georgia Dome that night.
"It was pretty bad two years ago getting heckled and I didn't even play so I can imagine it's just going to be that much better this time around," Mettenberger said. "I'm expecting the worst, but I've just got to go in there with a level head and play football."
Mettenberger's teammates say their quarterback's demeanor hasn't changed much this week, and they're not surprised.
"Zach is a guy that, when he's focused, nothing can get him off track," said left guard Vadal Alexander, a Georgia native himself. "He's been focused this whole season and I feel like this week's not going to be any different."
Les Miles has treated the story line with humor, saying Richt must have known LSU was counting Tammy Mettenberger for intelligence about the Bulldogs.
Miles said playing "between the hedges" at Georgia's Sanford Stadium is a special experience for any SEC player, so he wasn't about to downplay how much it would mean to a player who grew up so close to the Bulldogs' program, envisioning himself coming out of that tunnel wearing red for most of his young life.
Rather, Miles expressed confidence that Mettenberger has the maturity and commitment to his teammates to put it all in perspective.
"For Zach, it's going to be a lot of fun for him to take a very, very capable group of men that are committed to the team and him, and playing in that stadium," Miles said. "I think it will be a great experience."
Mettenberger doesn't deny he used to dream of charging out of the tunnel at Sanford Stadium wearing that trademark red helmet with the black 'G' on the side. He readily acknowledges he has no one to blame but himself for the fact that never happened, but also says he's learned from it and grown comfortable with the unexpected turn his career took thereafter.
"My life has ended up here at LSU and I couldn't be happier with it," Mettenberger said. "I'm proud to call myself a Tiger. I'm just excited to go into another SEC opponent's stadium and go in there and get a win."
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Posted on Tue, September 24, 2013