LSU Tigers: TCU Horned Frogs

Getting to know DaMarkus Lodge 

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

DESOTO, Texas -- With all the multiple camps, combines and special events happening each spring, DaMarkus Lodge chooses not to be a regular on the circuit.

It’s not that Lodge is against them, or that he thinks he’s above them. The ESPN 300 receiver has simply prioritized his life as a student-athlete. The camp circuit happens to be a middle-of-the-pack priority.

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As expected, Day 2 at the Under Armour All-America practices were smoother, more concise and much more productive. The players are now starting to think less and play more. Natural ability is starting to come to the forefront, which allows for them to be more productive. There have been fewer dropped passes, fewer misses by the QBs and the offensive lines are starting to jell quicker than expected. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this group is there have not been any true letdowns. They have stepped up and been as advertised almost top to bottom for both squads. Let’s hit the highlights of the day:

Top performers

WR Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish): Sims might not wow anyone with his 40-yard dash time, but it may not matter. Sims is so similar to Mike Evans at Texas A&M. He just makes plays. He has extremely long arms and is outstanding when in contested matchups. The ball will look like it is uncatchable and then next thing you know he jumps out of nowhere, extends and makes a play and the defender is left scratching his head. When it comes down to it, the QBs for Team Highlight can trust that if they need to throw it up, Sims will make a play. The most basic thing about the position is catching the football and Sims has no problem doing that.

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Big week for ESPN 300 WR Iheanacho 

December, 3, 2013
Remember when ESPN 300 wide receiver Frank Iheanacho (Houston/Westside) thought his future was on the basketball court?

That was during the summer. Fast forward a few months, and Iheanacho is now preparing for in-home visits from three SEC programs this week. Iheanacho, No. 89 in the ESPN 300, will host Arkansas on Tuesday, LSU on Wednesday and Texas A&M on Thursday. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound receiver, a U.S. Army All-American, will announce where he’ll take his talents at the game on Jan. 4 in San Antonio.

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- As he walked off the postgame podium, Les Miles spotted Missy Cameron at the back of the room.

“Way to go Mrs. Cameron,” Miles hollered across the room to the wife of his offensive coordinator before flashing the thumbs up.

Forgive Miles his excitement. The LSU coach has won many different ways during his tenure in Baton Rouge. Crazy trick plays. Unconventional clock management. Powerful running games. And, above all, tough defense.

But Miles is not accustomed to winning the way his Tigers did in its opener at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas -- through the air on the arm of a cool, collected quarterback, which is precisely how LSU defeated TCU 37-27 Saturday night.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesLSU had plenty to celebrate in beating TCU.
Miles was pumped afterward, but hardly surprised. After all, this is what he envisioned when he brought in his longtime buddy Cam Cameron to call plays and tutor Zach Mettenberger, who unleashed perhaps his finest performance as the Tigers’ quarterback.

“Exactly right,” Miles said.

“And I think that Zach will have nights like that pretty routinely from this point forward.”

If so, LSU could be one compelling team to watch this season. And, just maybe, a dark horse contender in the SEC and beyond.

“Tonight we wanted to come out and send a message that LSU is still here,” said Alfred Blue, who along with Terrence Magee showed that the Tigers have running backs other than suspended teammate Jeremy Hill. “And that we’re a dominant football team.”

Dominating Big 12 defenses has hardly been any way for an offense to send a message to anyone. But TCU coach Gary Patterson has been fielding top-notch defenses for more than a decade, and the Frogs appeared formidable again on that side of the ball, with or without All-American defensive end Devonte Fields, who like Hill sat out the game with a suspension.

Patterson had his defense selling out to stop LSU’s run, which in the past would force Miles to turn the game into a slugfest in the trenches.

Miles didn’t have to resort to that Saturday.

With Cameron pulling the strings and Mettenberger putting pass after pass into the chests of receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., TCU couldn’t get its defense off the field.

“TCU does a great job stopping the run because they commit so many people to the run,” Miles said. “They’ll walk safeties down and place people indiscriminately and back out and again -- it’s a very good concept.

“So the plan was to see if they can cover the pass, and certainly we did move the ball through the air very well.”

Mettenberger looked at ease in Cameron’s scheme, completing 16 of 32 passes for 251 yards. With TCU crowding the box, the Tigers took shots downfield early and often, contributing to the low completion percentage. Mettenberger completed seven passes of 14 yards or longer, including a 44-yard strike to Beckham that set up the Tigers’ first touchdown.

“Cam opening up this system,” Beckham said. “I’m just excited to see it.”

When LSU needed a completion, Mettenberger stood in the pocket and delivered there, too. As a result, the Tigers converted 13-of-19 third-down attempts to effectively wear out the Horned Frogs’ defense in the second half.

“Those were the major differences,” Miles said. “We’re throwing the ball for bigger plays. We’re being able to convert on third downs. I think that’s one of the real successes of the offense at this point.”

The biggest success of Cameron’s offense seemed to manifest itself in Mettenberger’s game. In 2012, Mettenberger had the second-worst quarterback rating in the red zone in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Tigers continued to struggle in the red zone early Saturday, settling for three short field goals when they could have jumped to a big lead. But when the game was on the line, Mettenberger had the chops and the precision to put it away. Facing third-and-5 with just over six minutes left, Mettenberger tossed a first-down strike to Jarvis Landry, who shed his defender and dashed 20 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.

“Coach Cameron has done a great job with the offense,” Mettenberger said, “and he has a game plan to make sure that we get our playmakers the ball.”

Mettenberger got the ball to Beckham and Landry, and he avoiding committing turnovers. He also took only two sacks, and calmly threw the ball away when he needed to.

“I feel like it’s a weight off his shoulders,” Beckham said. “He’s more like himself right now and he’s comfortable. He knows he’s going to make some amazing plays.”

In Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray, the SEC is chock-full of quarterbacks who can make such plays. But in Cameron’s system, the Tigers found they just might have one, too.

“Zach’s come a long way,” Blue said. “He’s developing into a great quarterback, a great leader on this offense.

“It’s why I think we’re going to have a great year.”

What to watch: LSU vs. TCU

August, 29, 2013
Zach MettenbergerThomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsWill the addition of Cam Cameron be the thing that finally allows Zach Mettenberger to blossom? Saturday's matchup with TCU will be the first test.
There won't be anything neutral about the site of the Cowboy Classic. Tickets might be split down the middle, but there's no questioning who the home team will be when the game gets underway. LSU will travel some 400 miles to get to Arlington, Texas, from Baton Rouge, La., while TCU's bus ride from Fort Worth might take all of 30 minutes with traffic.

Nonetheless, jet lag shouldn't play a role in the outcome of the game. The atmosphere should be electric for this primetime matchup between the SEC and the Big 12. After more than seven months of waiting, football is finally back for two schools with BCS aspirations.

As the countdown to kickoff marches toward the final hour, here are five things to keep an eye on:

1. Reloading on defense: It's no secret that LSU lost a ton on defense from last season. Returning just three starters would be precarious for most teams, but Tigers coach Les Miles and defensive coordinator John Chavis come into the season opener confident with emerging leaders such as linebacker Lamin Barrow and rising stars such as defensive linemen Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson. There's plenty of talent at every level of the defense, especially in the secondary, where safety Craig Loston and cornerback Jalen Collins give the Tigers two NFL-caliber pieces to build around. The Horned Frogs will be a challenge, though, especially in what will essentially be a road environment in Arlington. Nerves could be an issue given the Tigers' youth, in addition to whatever wrinkles TCU coach Gary Patterson is able to employ with the nucleus of his offense intact from a season ago.

2. Cameron's first test: Much has been made about the hiring of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron over the offseason, but the real question is how much effect he'll have on an LSU offense that's struggled to meet expectations. The former coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins has plenty to work with, as the Tigers return a senior quarterback, a swath of talented running backs, playmakers at receiver and an offensive line that brings back the likes of Vadal Alexander. The trouble with Cameron's offense, though, is that it might be too complex for the college game. After all, it's been roughly 13 years since he last coached student-athletes at Indiana. The good news is that LSU was already running a pro scheme before he arrived. The running game has always been a strength under Miles, but incorporating a vibrant passing attack has been elusive. As a supposed "quarterback guru", look for Cameron to try and expand Zach Mettenberger's game and incorporate more downfield passes into the Tigers' playbook.

3. Will stars play?: The game might well be decided by who doesn't see the field. LSU, still in limbo over Jeremy Hill's status, is keeping TCU guessing over whether the team's leading returning rusher will play. Miles was vague with reporters this week, saying that while he wouldn't comment on pending disciplinary action, "I wouldn't be surprised that he would be on our trip [to Dallas]." Though the Tigers certainly have enough in the backfield to do without, having a bruising runner like Hill available would do wonders. And just to keep things interesting, Patterson is playing coy about the status of his star defensive end. Devonte Fields, who was previously suspended for two games, was listed on TCU's depth chart and will be in uniform for the game, according to reports. Patterson won't say whether or not he'll play, but it's safe to say the Horned Frogs could use the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

4. Maturation of Mettenberger: There's never been a doubt about Mettenberger's arm strength or talent. What we saw when LSU played Alabama last season was enough evidence to show he's capable of being one of the better quarterbacks in the SEC. The former Georgia transfer made the Crimson Tide's secondary look porous for the first time all season, throwing for a season-high 298 yards in Baton Rouge. Though the Tigers ultimately came up short in that game, it proved to skeptics that Mettenberger isn't a lost cause. Cameron is the quarterback's fifth coordinator since coming out of high school, but he also represents his best hope of maturing into an NFL-caliber prospect. TCU and its complex 4-2-5 scheme signal the first step in that process. Patterson's squad might play in the defensively challenged Big 12, but their aggressive style and talent up front and in the secondary has always resembled that of the SEC.

5. Preparing for two quarterbacks: It remains to be seen whether it'll be Casey Pachall or Trevone Boykin under center for the Horned Frogs in Week 1. Patterson isn't saying and Miles and Chavis aren't about to predict how TCU's quarterback race will turn out. Instead, LSU is preparing for both. The two bring different styles to the table, Pachall fulfilling the more traditional role of a pocket passer while Boykin applies his quick feet and athleticism as a dual-threat quarterback. While Pachall was sidelined with off-the-field issues last season, Boykin performed admirably, passing for more than 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns in nine starts as a redshirt freshman in addition to rushing for 417 yards. Fans will remember, though, that it was only a year ago that Pachall was viewed as one of the top quarterbacks in the country coming off a sophomore campaign where he threw for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns and finished in the top 15 nationally in passing efficiency.

Video: Outside the hashmarks -- Week 1

August, 28, 2013

Mark Schlabach looks over the games in Week 1 that will have the biggest impact in the race for the national championship.

TCU head coach Gary Patterson looks ahead to the Horned Frogs' opener against LSU in a clash of Top 25 teams at AT&T Stadium.

Video: TCU coach frustrated with Les Miles

August, 9, 2013

Danny Kanell weighs in on TCU coach Gary Patterson's comments about LSU reinstating Jeremy Hill after a team vote.

Video: Gary Patterson criticizes Miles, LSU

August, 8, 2013

Big 12 blogger Jake Trotter reacts to TCU coach Gary Patterson's critical comments of LSU coach Les Miles for reinstating running back Jeremy Hill after his teammates voted to allow him to return to the team.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- If you don’t live in Texas, chances are, you have no idea where Gladewater, Texas, is located. Many Texans couldn’t find it on a map if given 30 seconds.

Daylon Mack laughs every time he’s questioned about his hometown: “Gladewater? Where’s that?” The east Texas town has a population of about 6,500. The high school features roughly 590 students – which dwarfs the size of some senior classes at Texas schools.

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FORT WORTH, Texas -- The nation’s No. 2 safety, ESPN 300 Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville), was in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex on Thursday and Friday, taking in all that TCU had to offer.

When he left, he had a new perspective on a school not named LSU or Alabama. In fact, it was enough to make him think about a third school in regards to his recruiting process.

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One of the most-asked questions at last weekend’s Texas State 7-on-7 Championships in Leander, Texas: Is Edwin Freeman an outside linebacker or a safety at the next level?

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MONROE, La. -- Who is Laurence Jones? Most people know him as the top football recruit from Neville High School, ranked No. 23 in the ESPN 300 -- and No. 2 among safeties -- with scholarship offers from elite programs across the country. But those closest to him know him better as 'Hootie,' a nickname he received from his late grandmother when he was just months old.

“When I was younger and I was a baby, my eyes were so big like an owl, like a hoot owl, so they just started calling me 'Hootie,' ” Jones said.

[+] EnlargeLaurence Jones
Greg Ostendorf/ESPNESPN 300 safety 'Hootie' Jones doesn't talk much about his recruitment, but he did say Alabama is one of his favorites.
The nickname stuck. His friends now call him that. His coaches call him that. Even his teachers refer to him at Hootie during school. When Neville head coach Mickey McCarty first met Jones as a 7th grader, he was introduced to him not as Laurence but as Hootie. McCarty didn’t ask questions. He just went with it. Eventually, he too heard the story.

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The Big 12-SEC dream games

May, 16, 2013
The SEC and Big 12 announced an annual challenge on the basketball court, but colleague Edward Aschoff wondered what it would look like if that challenge extended to the football field.

There are already two games on the schedule this season -- between TCU and LSU, and Oklahoma State and Mississippi State. What else would I like to see?

Let me start by saying that renewing the Texas-Texas A&M and Missouri-Kansas rivalries are a given. I'm omitting those matchups, but I'd love to see them.

Let's get started:

Oklahoma State vs. Alabama: OSU narrowly missed out on playing for the national title back in 2011, and both are among their conference favorites again in 2013. When the BCS "snubbed" the Pokes after the 2011 regular season, OSU coach Mike Gundy half-jokingly suggested these two play for the right to play LSU in the title game. It would be fun to see this one finally played out on the field.

Baylor vs. LSU: Straight up offense vs. defense. That's the Big 12 vs. SEC debate at its heart. Baylor just might be the Big 12's best offense, and LSU will put together another strong defense. These are the matchups we want to see. The Big 12 has faltered on the big stage, helping the SEC stretch its run of national titles, but seeing Bryce Petty sling it around against an athletic defense would be a lot of fun.

Texas vs. Arkansas: Arkansas' exit from the Southwest Conference helped usher in the birth of the Big 12 after the SWC crumbled. Texas has bigger rivals like Oklahoma and Texas A&M, but these two played some of the greatest games in college football history, and as an Arkansas native, I've seen up close how much Razorbacks fans detest the Longhorns to this day. The result would be a great game and a hyped atmosphere.

TCU vs. Texas A&M: Texas A&M fans take exception to the idea that TCU was an on-field "upgrade" over the Aggies in the Big 12. The Aggies largely struggled in the Big 12 after some early success and a Big 12 title under R.C. Slocum. Since leaving for the SEC, the Aggies have gone nowhere but up, and ended 2012 as the hottest team in college football. Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel has a Heisman Trophy. Could he shred the Frogs? Want to prove TCU is not an upgrade? Beat TCU on the field.

Kansas State vs. Florida: Kansas State is perpetually underrated and wins with a bunch of junior college guys, and high school players overlooked by major programs. Florida won big under Urban Meyer, but has been largely overrated since Meyer left and was whacked by Louisville to end 2012. The Gators would be suiting up an army of recruiting stars, but could Bill Snyder, the Manhattan Magician, grab a win for the Big 12?
Oklahoma vs. Georgia: Mark Richt and Bob Stoops have one big thing in common: Neither fan base truly appreciates what their coach has accomplished. Consider this an opportunity for both to quiet the hot-seat talk. It's been a lot more intense for Richt, who endured a 6-7 season back in 2010, but he's won the SEC East in each of the past two seasons. Stoops has averaged just over 10 wins a season at Oklahoma, and Richt has averaged just under 10 wins. Call this the "Underappreciated Bowl."

LSU: The hottest tickets

May, 8, 2013
Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers Matthew Hinton/Times-Picayune/US PresswireAlabama-LSU has turned into the must-see game in college football, and 2013 should provide much of the same intrigue.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- We know LSU games at Tiger Stadium are some of the hottest tickets in college football. It's why Tiger Stadium is undergoing an expansion that will make it the sixth stadium in college football to seat over 100,000.

It's hard to get an LSU ticket, home or away. Not only does Tiger Nation support the Tigers at home, Tigers fans gobble up their allotments for most road games.

Given that, what will be the toughest and most popular tickets for LSU fans in 2013 and why? Let's take a look.

1. Alabama (Nov. 9 at Tuscaloosa): LSU-Alabama is the new Ohio State-Michigan or Notre Dame-USC.

We know the game will have championship implications most years. In 2011, it was a preview of the national championship game. In 2012, Alabama's late rally in Tiger Stadium was the difference between the Tide going to the SEC championship game and national title game, instead of LSU.

While the Tigers are likely to be out of the preseason top 10 this year, LSU-Bama games have taken on too much meaning for this year's game to see a dramatic drop in interest.

2. Texas A&M (Nov. 23 at Tiger Stadium): This will be the Aggies' first trip to LSU for an SEC game and it will be LSU fans' chance to see a reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, in action in their stadium.

This will be the third time this has happened at LSU since 2009. Tim Tebow, two years removed from his Heisman, came to Baton Rouge in 2009 (Florida won 13-3) and Mark Ingram came in 2010 the year after he won his Heisman (LSU won, 24-21).

3. TCU (Aug. 31 at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas): It's not only a season opener for an LSU with a lot of question marks, it's also an opener against a big-name opponent on a national stage.

Will John Chavis be able to rebuild the defense? Is Cam Cameron's influence on the offense something that's profound?

TCU is a good enough opening opponent that we'll get those questions addressed rather quickly, adding intrigue to the opening wekend.

4. Florida (Oct. 12 at Tiger Stadium): Last year's SEC Sugar Bowl representative is one of the two teams, along with Alabama, that defeated LSU last year.

This game might have special meaning for the offense. In the 14-6 loss at the Swamp in 2012, the offense was at its most anemic, managing just eight first downs (three via penalty) while going 1-for-13 on third down. It was this kind of performance that led to the hiring of Cameron in the offseason.

The rematch will tell us a lot about whether the hiring has made a difference.

5. Georgia (Sept. 28 at Athens, Ga.): TCU will take LSU away from Tiger Stadium to start the season and while it's a neutral site game, Cowboy Stadium might favor the team from nearby Fort Worth.

That said, the first real road game for the Tigers will be Between the Hedges in Athens, where the Bulldogs (and not Florida) will be defending their SEC East title.

The interesting story angle of that day? It will be the return of former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger, now an LSU Tiger star, to Athens.


Kevin Toliver II Climbs New ESPN 300
Under Armour All-American and LSU commit Kevin Toliver II, the nation's top cornerback, joins ESPN's Matt Schick to discuss the new ESPN 300, keys to managing success and the rising senior's plan to visit other colleges.Tags: Kevin Toliver II, Trinity Christian, LSU Tigers, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Matt Schick