Tuesday, September 24, 2013
LSU at the quarter pole
By Alex Scarborough
These aren't your LSU Tigers of years past. Les Miles may still be at the helm, but this year's team is different. The defensive changes speak for themselves as coordinator John Chavis had wholesale changes to make over the offseason, overhauling the entire defensive line and most of the secondary. But the real difference has been felt on the offensive side of the ball, where Cam Cameron has reinvigorated the career of quarterback Zach Mettenberger and brought to life a previously anemic passing attack. At 4-0 with big wins over TCU and Auburn, these LSU Tigers, the same group picked by very few to compete for an SEC championship, are suddenly running neck and neck with the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
Zach Mettenberger's transformation from one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the SEC to one of the best has been plain to see.
Best game: A season-opening win over TCU in Texas was an appetizer, and lopsided victories over nonconference cupcakes UAB and Kent States were just a pair of savory side dishes. The real eye-opening entree came against SEC rival Auburn at home this past weekend. Though the second half certainly turned sloppy, LSU showed what kind of physical, imposing football team it can become. In rain-soaked conditions, Mettenberger wasn't at his best. No worry, though, as Jeremy Hill and the running game bowled over Auburn's defense, helping LSU jump out to a 21-0 halftime lead.
Best player: He's been everywhere at once for LSU. Odell Beckham Jr., after years of showing flashes of promise, has put it all together both as the team's leading receiver and the Tigers' most explosive return specialist. He leads LSU with 389 yards receiving to go with four touchdowns, and he's also averaging 27.1 yards per kick return. He and fellow wideout Jarvis Landry, no slouch himself at 364 yards receiving, form arguably the best tandem of receivers in the SEC.
Best performance: It wasn't the most important game of the season, but boy what a show Beckham put on against UAB. The speedy wideout showed all of his countless tools that night in the Tigers' home opener: precise route-running, good hands and a second level of speed few, if any, can match. He wound up amassing 331 all-purpose yards and four scores against the Blazers, 136 yards and three touchdowns of which came through the air receiving. "He has a want to make a play," Miles said after that game, marveling at Beckham's performance. Against UAB, when Beckham wanted to make a play, he did it seemingly at will.
Best surprise: Mettenberger entered the season a significant question mark. He was talented, sure, but would he ever put it together and become a weapon in LSU's struggling offense? Cam Cameron, LSU's newly hired offensive coordinator, represented the senior quarterback's last chance at salvation. And though it doesn't look like Cameron waived any magic wand in terms of noticeable schematic changes, his deft touch has been golden for both Mettenberger and LSU's offense as a whole. A year after finishing 13th out of 14 eligible SEC quarterbacks in raw QBR, Mettenberger now is No. 1 in the league, more than three full points ahead of Johnny Manziel.
Biggest disappointment: The one lingering doubt about these LSU Tigers is their killer instinct. The assemblage of talent is certainly all there, but can this young team put it together and show some consistency? A win against Auburn on Saturday did little to quell those fears that began in Week 1 against TCU when LSU's offense struggled to put away the Horned Frogs in Dallas. Auburn, down 21-0 at half with one foot already on the team bus, was allowed to storm back into the game, scoring three second-half touchdowns. Though Auburn never came within real striking distance, it didn't look good for a team that looked downright unstoppable at the start of the game.