The 2011 and 2012 LSU Tigers may have both started 5-0.
Still, few would argue this year’s team has played up to the level of its predecessor.
Closer-than-expected victories against an inconsistent Auburn team and FCS opponent Towson exemplify the Tigers’ struggles. Those struggles have raised criticism of nearly everyone involved.
Throughout the week, reporters asked players what they needed to do to steer the ship in the right direction. The answers ranged from better pass protection and route running to leadership, just to name a few.
Junior cornerback Tharold Simon made perhaps the most direct comparison between this season and last.
“Last year, it was so much fun,” Simon said. “We came together in the locker room, clowning around on the field — still being serious, but also having fun.
“This year is totally different. We’re not clowning around in the locker room or talking outside of practice. We don’t get together like we did last year. ... That’s been a big problem for us. We just need people to step up. The whole team needs to step up and lead each other.”
He admitted the outside pressure has gotten to him and his teammates. He added the loss of Tyrann Mathieu, one of the team’s most vocal leaders last season, has affected morale.
“We try to live up to the hype, to be one of the best teams, and we haven’t proved that we are,” Simon said. “The first three games were good, but after that we took a step back. We haven’t been playing great football. We just have to stop listening to everything outside of this. We just have to go out there and play football.”
Zach Mettenberger has perhaps been the biggest target for criticism directed toward LSU’s offensive struggles. He was hailed as “Mettsiah,” but his play through five games has drawn some criticism from fans.
Early in the week, coach Les Miles said he’s enjoyed Mettenberger’s play, and that his struggles only come from him trying to do too much. Mettenberger agreed, saying his playmaking doesn’t come from scrambling out of the pocket.
Asked what the passing game needs to start working, most players narrowed it down to one idea — trust.
“That’s the key,” receiver Jarvis Landry said. “(Quarterbacks) coach (Steve Kragthorpe) gives Zach the license. But it comes with trust.”
That confidence extends to Mettenberger and the receivers, as well.
“I have to trust that they’re going to be in the right spot at the right time,” Mettenberger said. “As we progress through the season, they’re going to get better. We just have to have coach Miles trust us, and we have to show them in practice that we can get the job done.”
Throughout the week, the wide receivers did their part in proving they’re willing to put in the work to get the LSU offense moving.
The receivers stayed late after every practice, running routes and catching passes. Landry said it was something the receivers did in the spring and was a conscious decision by the group to bring back.
“We looked a lot better in the spring game, and that came from the work we put in when nobody’s watching, when the coaches go upstairs,” Landry said. “It was becoming time when our playmaking ability is going to be needed for this team in this stretch.”
The offensive line hasn’t avoided any of the criticism, either.
LSU has allowed 23 quarterback hurries and 11 sacks this season. Some have credited the loss of starting left tackle Chris Faulk as a reason for the line’s struggles, and fellow tackle Alex Hurst admitted the linemen can hold blocks longer to give Mettenberger more time.
But he was adamant that not every sack is the fault of the linemen.
“A corner coming off the edge is not our guy,” Hurst said. “The running back is supposed to check that guy. That’s something Zach and the running backs need to be on the same page with.”
And he added that’s an area where the offense needs improvement.
“We only have five guys, and if they bring six, that’s up to Zach to see that,” Hurst said. “It’s been so-so. It’s been one area we need to work on.”
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