Football, LSU vs. Arkansas, 11-29-2013

LSU senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger (8) winces in pain after being injured Friday, Nov. 29, 2013 during the Tigers' 31-27 victory against Arkansas at Tiger Stadium.

It’s intuition.

A mother knows when her son is in pain — whether he’s a doting toddler or the LSU quarterback playing his final game on the Tiger Stadium turf.

So, when Tammy Mettenberger watched her son crumble to the Tiger Stadium turf one final time on Friday, she raced over to him.

As he grimaced under the arms of two LSU trainers, bearing no weight on the knee already rendered robotic by a season of thrashing, it appeared the culmination of five years’ worth of pain.

The pain that stemmed from watching her son labeled a predator by some and booted from the hometown Bulldogs — as she kept her job in their front office.

Pain as Zach battled limited mobility behind an up-and-down offensive line throughout the season, epitomized by his helpless Army crawl off the Bryant-Denny Stadium grass last month.

But the final anguish on Friday was too much to bear. The day that was pegged as his coronation ended wretchedly on two crutches amidst jubilation.

As a freshman stole the hearts of thousands and fans forgot about their senior leader, Mettenberger hobbled over to his teammates and coach as they began the Alma Mater.

And he wept.

The same man labeled emotionless by some, carefree by others and cocky by the rest. The senior who is infamous for nonchalantly tossing an empty can of dipping tobacco into the trash before meeting with the media showed a side only seen by his innermost circle.

“The guy I met [three years ago] is not the guy that we have,” LSU coach Les Miles said he told Mettenberger as he embraced and kissed his quarterback. “[You’re] so much more, so much more important to us as a team.”

Sure, Mettenberger’s statistics speak for themselves. He’s one of only three men to throw for 3,000 yards in an LSU uniform, notching the mark when he hit junior tight end Travis Dickson with an 8-yard completion in the third quarter.

Coupled with his 22 touchdown passes and season passer rating of 171.4, Mettenberger etched his name alongside Rohan Davey and JaMarcus Russell as an architect of an aerial game that was once considered dormant.

So dormant that during the 2011 season, when LSU put up 35.7 points per game, a two-quarterback system could only muster 2,135 yards. And in the 11-win season a year earlier, the Tigers threw for only 2,023 yards.

Under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s tutelage, Mettenberger’s maturation soared, as he stood poised in the face of pressure and brought a renewed pocket presence to what had been a simple ground and pound scheme.

But when it was over, Mettenberger was inconsolable. So much so that he told Miles to relay a message to the media and fans, as he feared he was too emotional to address them himself.

“He enjoyed his time here tremendously,” Miles said.

That wasn’t to say Mettenberger’s time as a Tiger is completely over, though. Miles didn’t immediately know the extent of the injury, but said he “certainly would hope” Mettenberger could return for the team’s bowl game.

Even Mettenberger’s heir apparent, freshman Anthony Jennings, set the record straight after leading the 99-yard drive that skyrocketed hype surrounding his potential.

“Zach is our quarterback,” Jennings said. “Zach is a tremendous teacher and he helps me. … He kind of molded me into becoming a better quarterback.”

Miles, with eyes reddened and tears welling at his postgame press conference, labeled him as more than a quarterback.

“He has grown and matured,” Miles said. “He is a quality man.”

And perhaps, for one day, that means more than being a quarterback.

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