Kent St.-LSU Preview
No longer does a Les Miles-coached LSU team have to rely on suffocating defense and a punishing power running game to win.
Through two games, at least, the eighth-ranked Tigers have been able to air it out, and might now even prefer that mode of attack as they get ready to face Kent State on Saturday night.
''We're feeling it,'' LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger said after throwing for a single-game school record five touchdown passes in a 56-17 demolition of UAB on Saturday night. ''Receivers were feeling where the spaces were. ... It really makes your job easy when your (offensive) line gives you all that time and those guys out wide can make every catch.''
And Mettenberger, it seems, can make all the throws. He missed on only three of 19 passes against UAB while racking up 282 yards - 17 short of his career high - in only three quarters of work before giving way to freshman QB Anthony Jennings.
Mettenberger averaged about 200 yards through the air last season, when LSU's passing offense ranked 92nd in the nation. Through the first two games of 2013, including a challenging opener against No. 24 TCU in Dallas, Mettenberger is passing for about 267 yards per game. And it appears his confidence and chemistry is only growing with a receiving corps that looked more like talented underachievers a year ago.
Miles brought in an old friend from Michigan, longtime college and NFL coach Cam Cameron, to rectify that as new offensive coordinator last winter.
''If you look at how Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and really the receiving core itself are jelling with the quarterback and expecting where the ball is going to be and understanding where the ball is supposed to go based on the coverage that they are seeing - that's Cam,'' Miles said. ''Cam is doing a great job teaching. ... So I think there is a great chemistry. I think Cam's bringing it.''
Beckham, who had two 100-yard receiving games as a sophomore, already has two in two games as a junior. Landry, also a junior who had one 100-yard game last season, opened with one against TCU and added a 71-yard, two-TD outing against UAB.
''It goes back into spring ball and throughout fall camp. I could just see it developing ... Things are happening,'' Beckham said. ''We're just clicking a little tighter, we communicate better and it's just part of us growing and maturing as individuals.''
That maturity is taking pressure off of a young defense and a running game that is still trying to hit its stride.
LSU's defense had only three full-time starters return from last season after sending a slew to the NFL.
The Tigers also lost two junior running backs to the pros: Michael Ford and Spencer Ware. Last year's leading rusher, Jeremy Hill, came back against UAB but was benched for the first game because of an offseason arrest stemming from a bar scuffle, and Miles said he is not yet in regular season shape. Alfred Blue, who opened last season as the starter, is coming back from major knee surgery. Terrence Magee is only now seeing regular action after spending his first two seasons as a seldom-used reserve running back and receiver. Kenny Hilliard is trying to bounce back from a sophomore slump. The Tigers are averaging 137 yards per game on the ground so far, down from nearly 174 per game last season.
In the meantime, LSU knows that even if its defense isn't quite as dominant as it has been, or if the running game isn't pounding out first downs, Mettenberger is leading an air attack that has helped the Tigers pile up 93 points in two games.
''He's throwing with so much confidence,'' Miles said. ''He knows where it's supposed to go.''
That powerful passing game doesn't bode well for Kent State (1-1), which allowed 357 yards through the air in a 41-22 loss to Bowling Green on Saturday. The Golden Flashes led 22-17 in the second quarter before giving up 24 unanswered points.
Kent State was without star running back Dri Archer, who's dealing with an ankle injury. Archer, who rushed for 1,429 yards last season, is uncertain for this game.
"We're going to fight. This is Week 2," coach Paul Haynes said. "This isn't the end of the season. ... We're going to go fight, we're going to get our road focus on and that's it. We're not going to put our tail between our legs and act like the world is over."
LSU and Kent State have never met. The Tigers have won an FBS-record 43 regular season games in a row against non-conference opponents.