Trust key for LSU passing game

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
8:30
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- In the season's first six games, LSU wide receivers have caught 65 passes -- not many when one considers that the Tigers have dropped close to 20.

Still, wide receiver Jarvis Landry doesn't want to portray the group as "struggling."

"We're not struggling at all," Landry said. "We're just trying to put [quarterback Zach Mettenberger] into a rhythm."

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireLSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger says, "We're so close to being a good offense."
It seems, right now, each part of LSU's passing game is dancing to its own song, perhaps a step off the beat. The offensive line has struggled to protect Mettenberger, both in terms of physically handling assigned blocks and getting to the proper block. Receivers have struggled to consistently run the right routes or run them well, and have struggled to hang on to catchable throws. Mettenberger tries to do too much and turns the ball over.

It adds up to a passing game that is 12th in the SEC (195.7 yards per game) and eighth in pass efficiency.

One would think the Tigers need to drastically improve to have any chance to rebound from last week's 14-6 loss to Florida. The Tigers continue to face a gantlet going forward, starting with Saturday's home game against South Carolina and continuing with games against Texas A&M and Alabama.

South Carolina leads the SEC in sacks, while A&M has the SEC's individual sack leader (Damontre Moore). Alabama has the nation's best defense.

It's hard to imagine LSU being able to simply run at any of the three. And if the Tigers are to balance the run with the pass, they will have to be much more in rhythm with each other than they have been, particularly recently.

The problems, they say, are largely ones that are correctable, which had many of those involved in the passing game frustrated a bit this week.

"We're so close to being a good offense," Mettenberger insisted.

What keeps it from happening?

"Little things," Landry said.

Little things that throw off the chemistry between quarterback and receiver, like "a route run one step further than it's supposed to be run," Mettenberger said as an example, or a route that's not run at the same speed it's run in practice. From Mettenberger's side, it's getting the ball out on time and accurately. And if the ball isn't thrown perfectly, the receivers can make a play on it.

"When the ball comes our way, no matter if it's behind, high or low, we need to just capitalize when the ball is thrown to us," Landry said. "We don't get many, but when we do, we have to seize the moment."

Doing that gains "trust," a word Landry uses often.

A year ago, then-LSU quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson had trust in Rueben Randle. He'd run his routes right and if the ball was thrown near him, he'd catch it. Didn't hurt that he had NFL size and speed.

With Randle now playing for the New York Giants, LSU has struggled to find that go-to guy. Odell Beckham Jr. looked to inherit that role after a solid freshman season in 2011 where he finished second on the team in receiving behind Randle. But he has struggled with dropped passes and fumbles. It started when he fumbled the opening kickoff of the Washington game and has continued into October.

A play that's been symbolic of his season came against Florida last week. With LSU trailing 7-6 deep it its own territory, he got behind the Gators defense and hauled in a well-thrown deep ball that Mettenberger released just as he was being hit around his feet. Beckham caught it in stride up the right sideline, and seemed on his way to at least getting LSU into field goal range.

Instead, it was a disaster. Florida's Matt Elam caught him and stripped him of the ball and recovered it. Beckham's second fumble of the year cost LSU its best chance at winning on the road.

If he didn't fumble, LSU would likely have scored to take the lead, perhaps winning the game and altering the pessimistic perception of the receivers. Instead, Beckham still leads LSU in receiving -- 20 catches for 364 yards and two touchdowns he caught the week before the Florida game against Towson -- but he failed to take that next step. Instead, LSU is still looking.

"We’re developing that guy, we hope," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We’re looking forward to him stepping up and showing who he is."

Could it be Landry, who has been quiet lately? Could it be Kadron Boone, who got off to a good starts, but had a couple of dropped passes at Florida?

So far it hasn't happened for any of them and one wonders if it will.

The Tigers insist they're close.

"You just have to have a positive mental attitude," Landry said. "If you do that, things will start falling your way."

Gary Laney | email

Reporter, GeauxTigerNation

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