No. 8 LSU, senior QB enjoying aerial renaissance
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP)
No longer does a Les Miles-coached LSU 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.
''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 yards short of his career high - in only three quarters of work before giving way to freshman QB Anthony Jennings.
Mettenberger averaged about 200 yards passing 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 heads into this Saturday's game against Kent State knowing 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.''