- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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With spring practice in full swing, all eyes are on Zach Mettenberger and LSU's passing offense. And that trend should continue through fall practice and once the season finally gets here.
But while many want to see what Mettenberger can do in his second year as a starter, especially with Cam Cameron taking over the offense, LSU's running game will still have to be very strong. With Michael Ford and Spencer Ware surprisingly taking their games to the NFL, the Tigers will be down some backs in 2013, meaning rising sophomore Jeremy Hill will become that much more important this fall.
In fact, he could be the X factor in LSU's offense.
The Tigers want to throw the ball more, and probably will with Cameron's philosophy and all of Mettenberger's receiving targets returning, but a powerful running game has always been in Les Miles' arsenal. Having a bullish back like Hill, who resumes his role as LSU's No. 1 running back, will help continue that trend.
But like Mettenberger a year ago, there will be a lot of pressure on Hill to perform. He arrived with a load of hype last year, and once he took over as the starter midway through the season, he was one of the most exciting running backs to watch in the SEC. He finished the year with 755 yards and 12 touchdowns. He started five of the 11 games he played in.
Starting with the South Carolina game in early October, Hill carried the ball at least 12 times each game during the last two months of the season. During that span, he gained 124 yards in a win over the Gamecocks and 127 yards in a win over Texas A&M a week later. He rushed for three touchdowns in those games and averaged more than 7 yards a carry in both outings. A week later, he carried the ball 29 times for 107 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Alabama.
His numbers dipped in the final three games of the season, but he came roaring back for three quarters against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. After rushing for 124 yards and two touchdowns (averaging 10.3 yards per carry along the way), he didn't touch the ball at all in the fourth quarter, and the Tigers let a 24-13 lead slip away inside the Georgia Dome.
On the season, Hill averaged a rugged 5.3 yards per carry. He also gained 490 of his yards on first down, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Eleven of his touchdowns also came on first down, and he rushed for 291 of his yards (5.6 yards per carry) and six touchdowns in the fourth quarter, making the Chick-fil-A Bowl game plan in the fourth quarter that much more perplexing.
Mettenberger should be better this fall, but Hill will have to pick up where he left off and be able to carry even more of the load. He'll be able to get breathers from Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard, but Hill will be the focal point of the running game. He has a great combination of size and speed and packs quite the punch, making it hard to prevent him from toughing out a couple extra hards on every run.
People continue to pump up guys like Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon -- and for good reason -- but keep two eyes on Hill this fall. He has all the talent to be a special player in this league, and if the passing game gets going, Hill will be freed up to do even more in 2013 ... and that's not a good thing for opposing defenses.