LSU hoped the hiring of Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach would have a positive influence on senior Zach Mettenberger.
Obviously it has, though it’s unlikely even the most optimistic among the Tigers would have expected the improvement to manifest itself the way it has two games into the season.
Mettenberger followed a solid, efficient effort in the Tigers’ 10-point win over TCU in the season opener with a record-setting, nearly flawless performance in a 56-17 rout of UAB on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
After throwing no more than two touchdown passes in any game last season, Mettenberger threw three in the first 22 minutes — becoming the first Tiger since Rohan Davey in 2006 to throw three touchdowns in a half — and finished with a school record five against the Blazers.
That’s more than Bert Jones, Y.A. Tittle, Tommy Hodson, Matt Mauck, JaMarcus Russell or anybody else you care to name.
He broke a record accomplished 11 times by eight quarterbacks, most recently by Matt Flynn against Ohio State in the BCS championship game after the 2007 season.
“Zach is just throwing the football with so much confidence,” coach Les Miles said. “He knows where the ball is supposed to go. He took the ball where it was intended to go and threw pretty well.”
While Mettenberger, who finished 16 of 19 for 282 yards, was putting his name in the record book for passing, Odell Beckham Jr. was attacking it from a variety of angles, finishing with 331 all-purpose yards, third most in school history.
“Third all-time in all-purpose yards is really special considering all the talent that has come through here,” Mettenberger said.
Beckham, who had 118 receiving yards among his 272 all-purpose yards in the 37-27 victory against TCU, became the first Tiger since Dwayne Bowe in 2006 to have consecutive 100-yard receiving games. He grabbed three of Mettenberger’s scoring passes.
But that was just part of the story as he gained an additional 15 yards on one rush, 21 on one kickoff return, 59 on three punt returns and 100 on a rare field goal return that was closer to 109 but statistically can’t be recorded as more than 100.
UAB coach Garrick McGee said his team should have done a better job kicking away from Beckham.
“We think he is one of the most dangerous punt returners in the country,” McGee said. “We didn’t want to give him a chance to impact the game like he did.”
The Tigers (2-0), who had 445 yards of offense a week after accumulating 448, play Kent State next Saturday in Tiger Stadium. They extended their FBS-record win streak against nonconference regular-season opponents to 43. UAB (0-2) was the last non-conference opponent to beat LSU in Tiger Stadium, winning 13-10 in 2000 in the only previous meeting between the schools.
“We’ve had a lot of games against a lot of teams that have gone to the wire,” Miles said. “It was nice to have a game where we were able to distance ourselves from the opponent and play a lot of young players and come away with a very significant victory.
“The goal was to play four quarters of dominant football, and we fell a little short of that. So there’s room for improvement, but certainly there were a lot of good things.”
The Mettenberger-Beckham show pushed the Tigers’ familiar running game into the background. Even Jeremy Hill’s long-awaited and long-debated debut after being disciplined in the wake of a second run-in with the law was a footnote. He was the fourth running back to play and entered the game after the passing game had mostly built a 21-0 lead.
Hill’s first carry was a 3-yard run that pushed the lead to 28-0 early in the second quarter after the LSU defense had forced punts on the Blazers’ first three possessions before Quentin Thomas recovered a fumble on their fourth. Hill finished with 50 yards on six carries, just shy of Kenny Hilliard’s 54 yards on 11 carries.
After Hill’s score, the Tigers started mixing in some younger players on defense and UAB (0-2) showed some life, scoring on Darrin Reaves’ 11-yard touchdown run.
Mettenberger’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry pushed the lead to 35-7 before the Blazers scored the final 10 points of the second quarter to get within 35-17 at halftime.
LSU’s first possession of the third quarter ended with Mettenberger throwing a 27-yard touchdown pass to Beckham, tying the record and extinguishing what little hope the Blazers might have had entering the second half.
Mettenberger, who completed 16 of 32 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown against TCU, broke the record with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Landry, and Beckham’s final and most spectacular play came when he fielded Ty Long’s 59-yard field goal attempt just inside the end line of the south end zone and sprinted all the way to the north end zone to complete the scoring late in the third quarter.
After that, Mettenberger, Beckham and many other starters took the rest of the night off — as did most of the 90,037 in attendance. But many defensive starters played into the fourth quarter as LSU held UAB scoreless after halftime.
“We are not going to sit back on our heels. We are not that kind of a defense,” linebacker Lamin Barrow said. “I think it’s disrespectful to the other team to take all of your starters out before the game is over.”