Published September 25, 2012 - 10:30am
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Heading into the 2012 season, much of the LSU fan excitement centered around the debut of new starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger. The anemic passing game led by the not-so-dynamic duo of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson is behind us. Enter the big arm of Zach Mettenberger.
With the LSU team loaded with talent, Mettenberger filled the only hole this team had: a passnig game. Or at least that was the idea.
After three cupcakes at home, Mettenberger made his SEC debut against a fiesty and beaten up Auburn team. The result wasn’t exactly pretty. Mettenberger’s stat sheet read 15 of 27 for 169 yards. No touchdowns and no picks. Moreover, Mettenberger didn’t exactly pass the eyeball test. He looked unsure and unathletic.
But should the Auburn game warrant concern for LSU fans? Not yet. This is business as usual for Les Miles and his team.
Les Miles is very comfortable winning using “Les Miles football.” This means elite defense, power running, special teams, field position and yes, insane fake field goal and fourth down attempts.
Zach Mettenberger is likely an improvement over Lee/Jefferson, but he’s not so much of an improvement to alter the Les Miles game plan. Consider the Auburn game. Despite a lackluster offense, Les Miles and his staff continued their game plan. They continued the power running game even when Auburn was stopping it consistently. They would rather run the ball and punt it away with their awesome Australian punter than make a mistake and turn it over (Mettenberger of course fumbled twice which is a big no-no in this game plan).
Arguably, no team places a greater emphasis on field position than LSU. Recall the LSU game at West Virginia last year. Many critics cited the gaudy passing numbers by WVU QB Geno Smith against LSU as a cause for concern, but failed to understand the LSU game plan. On each of WVU’s three touchdown drives, they were forced to start on their own 27, 20 and 9 yard lines. WVU got destroyed in the field position battle, and by having to go the length of the field continually, the potential for turnovers increased dramatically. Big plays on defense and big plays on special teams flip the momentum. The LSU ground game finishes you off in the second half. Les Miles football.
62% of the plays against Auburn were runs. Pretty standard stuff for the LSU offense.
In fact, Mettenberger’s 169 passing yards against Auburn is rather similar to Jarrett Lee’s average of 167.8 yards against SEC defenses last year.
It would take a superstar at quarterback to move Les Miles and this staff off their offensive game plan, especially considering the depth at running back and the caliber of athlete on the LSU defense.
If there is an area of concern, it’s the possible lack of big play in the special teams department that turned multiple games in 2011. Kick returns by Mathieu and Claiborne were instrumental in huge games last year against teams like West Virginia, Arkansas and Georgia.
In fact, the last three SEC games that LSU has played (Georgia, Alabama and Auburn) have been pretty abysmal offensively. We all know what happened against Alabama, but many forget how ugly the Georgia game was until a few big plays. Down 10-0 late in the second half, Tyrann Mathieu returned a punt for a touchdown. Other than that huge play, LSU had 8 drives in the 1st half resulting in 7 punts and 1 fumble. Georgia turnovers and another Mathieu punt return setup short fields in the 3rd quarter which gave LSU momentum that was never lost.
When LSU plays a stout defense (Georgia, Alabama, even Auburn maybe), the Les Miles current brand of football -the steady pounding of power running backs – requires a big play at some point in the game Guys like Mathieu, Claiborne and even Wing made these plays in 2011. It’s no guarantee that they come in 2012. If they don’t, LSU might find it difficult to get back to the BCS.
LSU gets Florida in a tough environment in two weeks. Will we see an LSU offense beat down an SEC defense and steamroll the Gators, or will we see more evidence that LSU will struggle against good defenses? While the Gators have a very good defense, they aren’t as physical up front as Georgia, Alabama and even Auburn. They have a good defensive line that is more fast than physical paired with a great secondary. The LSU power ground game could find traction, but you can bet Muschamp is going to do his best to make Mettenberger put the ball in the air.