Print and Go Back ESPN.com: LSU Tigers [Print without images]

Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Mettenberger: No 'stache, better pass?

By Gary Laney

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Blonde hairs have hovered over LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger's upper lip like a hairpiece this season, sometimes looking a bit unnatural and awkward.

Zach Mettenberger
Zach Mettenberger hopes losing his mustache will help lead to increasing efficiency within the LSU passing game.
Until Monday, that is. The LSU junior, opting to turn the page on a facial hair misadventure, showed up for media interviews sans what had become his signature mustache.

"I thought I was going to keep the 'stache the whole year," the clean-shaven Mettenberger said. "But the offense wasn't clicking. So being a little superstitious, hopefully, this changes it up."

Many will welcome the change, especially now with No.4 LSU, 5-0, but with recent struggles against a light schedule, heading into perhaps the toughest five-game stretch any team will face in college football this season. Starting with Saturday's game at No. 11 Florida, the Tigers' next five opponents, all SEC teams, are a combined 21-1, and four are ranked.

LSU's passing game, which was supposed to be upgraded this year with the addition of the strong-armed junior as the starting quarterback, has instead been as unattractive at times as the trend to bring back 1970s facial hair.

Pass routes have run awry. Mettenberger's decisions have sometimes been forced, like the two goal-line interceptions he fired into coverage against North Texas and Idaho and the ill-advised scrambles that led to fumbles against Auburn and Towson. Sometimes, passes are dropped or Mettenberger gets sacked.

Added up, it equals an LSU pass offense that is 12th in the SEC in yards per game (203.2). While Mettenberger's numbers aren't terrible (78-for-119 for 1,016 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions), there's been a tendency for things to go sideways at the worst moments. Both interceptions were at the goal-line and one of the fumbles was at the 3-yard line. The other two led to touchdowns.

The 11 sacks allowed have been as many as LSU's feared defense has accumulated and pass protection breakdowns have led to embarrassing moments such as North Texas or Towson laying big hits on an SEC quarterback.

When the little disasters happen, the passing game, like the mustache, becomes unattractive. The passing game was so unspectacular, it was booed by home fans during LSU's 38-22 win over Towson last week.

As for the mustache, which the junior started to grow in August camp, pledging to keep it growing until the Tigers lost, it got bad enough that a smoothie business just off the LSU campus hung this message on its marquee sign: "Z Mett, the 80s want their dirty stache look back."

Mettenberger said it wasn't the smoothie sign that did the mustache in -- "I was very flattered and honored that I made the sign," he insisted -- but the offense that inspired the new look.

"The offensive woes," he said "was the biggest deciding factor to shaving the mustache."

The mustache came off with some clips and a few strokes of a razor. If only cleaning up the passing game was that easy.

Unlike the mustache, the passing game woes aren't limited to one area.

"I think Zach shares in, but he's not the reason for the inefficiency in the passing game," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I think it's born by the offensive line, running backs and wide receivers. I think it's all of us."

There have been dropped passes and bad routes by receivers. The 11 sacks of Mettenberger goes not only to the offensive line, but also to running backs, who blew assignments on a couple of sacks Mettenberger has taken from blitzing defensive backs. And, by Mettenberger's own admission, he has a tendency to maybe try to make too much happen when he gets frustrated.

LSU's receivers have admitted that they, along with Mettenberger, still need to earn trust. Jarvis Landry, LSU's leader in receptions with 18, said the receivers have pledged to do extra work with Mettenberger after practice this week to tighten up chemistry issues.

Blocking is also a work in progress. LSU has experimented with line combinations since left tackle Chris Faulk was lost for the season.

"I don't look good unless the 10 other guys on the team look good," Mettenberger said. "And they don't look good unless I'm doing well."

Facial hair issue resolved, Mettenberger and the LSU offense looked to clean up their game too. Indeed, as Monday evening interviews began, receivers were seen doing extra after-practice work.

Against Towson, after the boos started to rain down, Mettenberger threw two touchdown passes to Odell Beckham, Jr. Perhaps that, more than a shaved mustache, marked the passing game shift LSU was looking for. Beckham, who lacked confidence after some dropped passes early in the season, seemed to come out of a funk.

If he gets hot, LSU can be dangerous in the passing game, but only if the fine details are worked out.

"If we can focus on the little things, like protection and running routes," Mettenberger said, "we can be very, very good on offense."