Zach Mettenberger said he felt more comfortable in his second start as LSU’s quarterback than he did in his first, and his performance reflected that.
The Tigers are emphasizing pass catching in practice this week after receivers dropped five throws in the 41-3 victory against Washington last Saturday.
The game against Idaho on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium is the final tune-up before LSU steps up in class and begins Southeastern Conference play.
So is this the week that the bolder passing game coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa have been promising shows up in a game?
“We want to throw the football down the field and more efficiently,” Miles said Monday at his weekly news luncheon.
“If we eliminate some of those drops, that will happen pretty effortlessly.”
Even with the drops, Mettenberger completed 12 of 18 passes. He had 195 yards, and by Miles’ estimation would have had 50 or so more if not for the drops. Mettenberger threw a 32-yard touchdown to Kadron Boone and did not throw an interception.
“I like the way our quarterback played,” Miles said. “He was very accurate. He was on his reads and doing the right things. We want to use him more.”
Odell Beckham Jr. dropped two of Mettenberger’s passes, James Wright dropped one, and Russell Shepard dropped one in the end zone. Jarvis Landry dropped a halfback pass from Spencer Ware.
Mettenberger seemed unconcerned about the drops, as he seems to be about most things.
“It happens. Jerry Rice dropped balls,” Mettenberger said, referencing the Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver.
Mettenberger said just getting his first college start out of the way in a 41-14 victory against North Texas two weeks ago was important. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown, but threw an interception from the Mean Green 7.
“Week 1, it had been a year since I had played in a full game, dealing with the crowd and the opponent,” Mettenberger said. “Being more comfortable with the situation I was in (in the second game), I think is why I played better.”
Fullback J.C. Copeland said it was obvious that Mettenberger was more comfortable the second time around.
“It was more like he was just out there having fun,” Copeland said. “He was more himself. He wasn’t uptight He was loose and doing what he does best.”
Wright, who had team-highs and career-highs of five receptions and 75 yards, said Mettenberger “seemed to be in rhythm.”
The offensive line enhanced Mettenberger’s comfort level by keeping him from being sacked after he was sacked twice and routinely hassled by North Texas.
“You saw him rolling out in the pocket,” guard La’el Collins said. “You saw him stepping up in the pocket. You saw him just moving around, being that mobile quarterback with that big body and that big frame and not scared to take a hit when he was throwing the ball.
“If anybody was in his face, he was still throwing it. So I felt he was more comfortable, and that’s the thing about an offensive lineman, you want to make your quarterback feel as comfortable as he can feel in the pocket.”
LSU has rushed for 558 yards and averaged 5.7 per carry in the first two games. Mettenberger said it’s easy to see the effect the success of the running game has on the defense when he runs play action.
“You can just tell by the corners cheating up and the safeties really biting on a play fake,” he said. “That’s because we run the ball so dominantly here.”
The running game and the defense, with help from the passing game, have put the Tigers in charge of each of their first two games before halftime, so there hasn’t been a great need to test the limits of the passing game. But with SEC play looming, that could soon change.
“I’d love to throw more,” Mettenberger said. “But coach Miles is an offensive line guy who likes to run the football. Our (completion) percentage is (69 percent). If we can show him that we can throw the ball down the field and still have a high percentage, he’s going to be more lenient about throwing the ball.”
If each of Mettenberger passes had been caught, his completion percentage would be an eye-popping 79.5 for the season.
“I think Zach continues to improve,” Miles said. “It seems to me that he’s very comfortable throwing the ball. He’s functioning the offense and doing everything we’re asking him to do.”
The question is when will Miles ask him to do more. The answer seems to lie largely in the players’ hands, more specifically the receivers’ hands.
“Simply put, if we want to do some of the things that we want to do, we need to fix (the drops),” Miles said. “I believe that our guys understand it and are working to handle that. I don’t think that is a problem, but it’s something that we will look at and address.”
The receivers seem eager to eliminate the drops and show how much more they can do.
“I think we’re capable of making more plays, bigger plays,” Wright said. “It’s only a matter of time before we get more and more comfortable and open it up. It’s just the comfort level that we have with the passing game and the quarterbacks, receivers and coaches.”
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