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Film: Mettenberger's conservative debut

9/2/2012



BATON ROUGE, La. -- It didn't take long for the LSU natives to get a little restless.

In the debut of the quarterback they've been waiting for, Zach Mettenberger, the Tigers offense kept a lot in the back pocket. In the fourth quarter, LSU fans booed one of several quick screen passes called in the Tigers' 41-14 win over North Texas Saturday.

It certainly was a conservative game plan.

A breakdown of the film showed LSU was in some variation of the I formation on 56 of 72 offensive plays, running on 46 of 72 plays for 316 yards. When the Tigers did pass, it was mostly conservative attempts, with 17 of Mettenberger's 26 passes being "horizontal" throws such as quick screens, hitch passes and quick slants that covered 5 or fewer yards.

It was part of a good news, bad news day offensively. LSU's 508 yards was more than it gained in any game last season. But Mettenberger said they were "sloppy" and took the blame for some of it. He threw a red-zone interception that he said was a bad decision and took a hard hit on a sack by UNT's Hilbert Jackson that he said was his fault.

"We had over 500 yards of total offense -- that's something to be proud of," he said. "As sloppy as we were offensively, to put up that many yards, it's good."

Clearly, the Tigers stuck with the areas they weren't sloppy in more often than not.

He said the short passes were part of the game plan, and were a consistent, if not spectacular, yards-gainer.

"They had the linebacker tucked in, so we were going to take advantage of it with the quick screen," said Mettenberger, who completed 17 of 26 passes for 192 yards with a touchdown and an interception in his debut as a starter. "It's basically a glorified sweep to the outside, one-on-one with hopefully one of our guys making plays, and our guys made plays.

"Hopefully we can build on this."

LSU threw the quick screen on 10 of his 26 passes and added one conventional screen and five other designed quick routes. On these plays, the Tigers avoided negative consequences.

That cannot be said of plays in which the Tigers chose to look deeper. On 11 plays where Mettenberger looked downfield, he was sacked twice and threw an interception on what appeared to be the only play of the night when the Tigers lined up with four receivers.

The Tigers did get some big plays in the passing game looking deep. Mettenberger's first touchdown of the season was a 34-yard pass downfield to Kadron Boone early in the fourth quarter. Mettenberger also completed a couple of deep balls on nice catches by Jarvis Landry, who hauled in a spectacular one-handed catch for 19 yards on LSU's first reception of the season.

Later, Landry extended fully to haul in a 33-yard pass from Metenberger on what looked like a hitch-and-go. Mettenberger pump-faked the short pass to Landry, then found him as he blew by a defensive back who bit on the fake. Had Mettenberger not overthrown it a tad, Landry likely would have scored a 59-yard touchdown.

LSU had similar results on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Mettenberger to Russell Shepard that was also a pump fake, then go. That one was called back because guard Josh Williford was illegally downfield.

On other downfield plays, Mettenberger made mistakes. He made a bad decision to throw the ball on a third-and-goal and wound up floating a pass off his back foot that was picked off by UNT's Zac Whitfield at the 1-yard line.

"Like what I've talked about in the past, it's 'force or fit,' when me and [quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe] talk," Mettenberger said, referencing a continuing dialogue he has with his position coach over finding a balance between having the confidence to "fit" a tough pass into a tight window while not "forcing" a pass he shouldn't try.

"That one was probably a play I should have thrown away," he said.

He also took the blame on the Jackson sack in the first quarter that sent him to the locker room for precautionary concussion tests he said he passed "with flying colors." He came back into the game after a series and played most of the night.

On the play, wide receiver James Wright clearly signaled to Mettenberger before the snap that Jackson was showing blitz. But Mettenberger didn't look for it, held the ball too long and get hit hard just under the chin by Jackson.

"I need to see that," Mettenberger said.

He said he might have to improve on his reads quickly. Washington's high-powered offense comes to town next.

"They're going to throw it around and press our defense," Mettenberger said. "We're going to have to be ready to counterattack.

"I look forward to a shootout."