STARKVILLE, Miss. — The LSU defense has been a cause of much consternation the past two weeks, and perhaps it will continue to be.
But who cares?
In the aftermath of the Tigers’ 59-26 trouncing of Mississippi State on Saturday, any lingering concerns about the defense should be put on hold long enough for a proper appreciation of what Zach Mettenberger, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Jeremy Hill and the rest of the offense are doing.
These playmakers are accomplishing stuff rarely seen by Tigers followers. In fact, programs much more noted for their offense than LSU traditionally has been would have a hard time topping what this group has been up to.
Halfway through the season, Mettenberger’s poise, accuracy, judgment and efficiency have been nearly impeccable, though his biggest challenge often has been choosing which of his wide-open receivers to target. He has been very fair as Beckham and Landry have been nearly unstoppable, alternating as Mettenberger’s primary target.
It was Beckham’s turn Saturday, and he caught a career-high nine passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. That was his fourth 100-yard game, and his yardage total was the highest by a Tiger in a Southeastern Conference game in 11 years.
Landry failed to reach the end zone for the first time this season and the first time in eight games overall, but he still caught eight passes for 96 yards. His five-game streak of touchdown grabs set a school record for the start of a season, and his seven-game streak dating to last year tied Dwayne Bowe’s school record.
As defenses have stubbornly, if not inexplicably, continued to sell out against the run — as though they were playing the 2012 or 2011 Tigers — Mettenberger, Beckham and Landry have made them pay.
LSU’s first seven running plays against State netted just 8 yards, but Mettenberger made the Bulldogs pay during the same stretch with completions of 27, 24, 16 and 9 yards.
When defenses finally escape denial and play the Tigers’ passing game straight or pay extra attention to the wideouts, Hill breaks free. After the early congestion was cleared Saturday, Hill had runs of 69, 14 and 13 yards on his way to gaining 157 yards on 16 carries. Kenny Hilliard, Terrence Magee and Alfred Blue also benefited from the passing game’s softening of the State defense.
Mettenberger is on pace to pass for 3,476 yards and 30 touchdowns. The school records are 3,347 yards (Rohan Davey in 2001) and 28 TDs (JaMarcus Russell in 2006 and Matt Mauck in 2003).
Beckham is on pace to finish with 70 catches for 1,372 yards and 12 touchdowns, and Landry is on pace to catch 84 passes for 1,232 yards and 14 touchdowns. The school records are 94 catches (Josh Reed in 2001), 1,740 yards (Reed in ’01) and 12 touchdowns (Bowe in 2006). Neither Beckham nor Landry is likely to match Reed’s records, including his SEC-record yardage total, but as a tandem they’re well on their way to establishing the standard.
Hill is on pace to rush for 1,188 yards and 18 touchdowns. That would be the fifth-highest yardage total even though he didn’t play in the opener and had just six carries in the second game for disciplinary reasons.
He is averaging 7.5 yards per rush; the school record with a minimum of 200 carries is 5.6 (Kevin Faulk in 1998). Although Hill is on pace for 158 carries, he still could get to 200 and, if he does, he might up his touchdown pace enough to match or surpass LaBrandon Toefield’s record of 19 in 2001.
To comprehend what the LSU offense is doing, think of, say, Russell’s and Bowe’s 2006 seasons, Reed’s 2001 season and Faulk’s 1998 season happening simultaneously. That’s what’s going on this season.
If you must wring your hands about the LSU defense, go ahead. But don’t do so at the expense of appreciating the historic playmaking being done by this offense.