LSU coach Les Miles got hit coming and going with questions about his team’s struggling passing attack Wednesday.
In the morning, the passing game — which produced a season-low 97 yards in a 24-19 victory at Texas A&M last Saturday — was a popular topic as Miles fielded questions during his stint on the Southeastern Conference coaches weekly teleconference.
It was still popular some eight hours later when Miles met with Baton Rouge reporters for the first time since returning from College Station, Texas.
Shortly thereafter, fans brought up the topic during Miles’ weekly radio show.
The sixth-ranked Tigers are 7-1 and 3-1 in the SEC, but they rank 12th in the league in passing offense. This week’s open date provides three extra practices for the coaches to work with quarterback Zach Mettenberger, the receivers and the entire passing game before starting game-week preparations for No. 1 Alabama on Monday.
LSU is working on more than just the passing game this week, but it seems pretty clear Miles is showing more than a passing interest in trying to improve it.
“It’s a lot more than just Zach,” Miles said. “Does he have protection? Is the route being run properly and is the route open? I think to recognize it’s more than just the quarterback is fundamental there.
“We’re applying some coaching grease to that. We’re practicing it enough. We feel like we should be getting better at it.”
Miles said the team has the capability of making short, intermediate and deep throws, but sometimes improvement comes more slowly than it does other times.
“Sometimes guys get it in the 50th rep, sometimes the 500th,” he said. “In any event, they’re going to have opportunities to learn it. It’s at a point where we really need to execute better and continue to practice it and grow it.”
LSU tried several deep passes against A&M, but didn’t complete any. The longest completion was a 29-yard touchdown from Mettenberger to Kadron Boone, which gave the Tigers a 14-12 halftime lead.
Still, Miles said, the deep attempts led the Aggies to back off of eight- and nine-man fronts.
“They recognize your intent,” Miles said, “and they don’t necessarily like to give up seven (points).”
Miles said the Tigers “have to” continue to throw the ball deep because teams are going to stack the line of scrimmage to try to contain LSU’s running game, which ranks fifth in the SEC.
“You have to have the ability to challenge those teams vertically,” he said. “We’ll continue to call those plays. A couple were open. We’d like to hit those.
“If we’re going to progress there can’t be a short commitment to it. We’re going to have to throw the football. We’re doing that aggressively this week. If we hit three deep balls in that game it’s a completely different game. We recognize it. We’re going to continue to press it, coach it with time and effort and energy with the team. We’re looking to coach it to that effect.”
Miles said he sees progress from Mettenberger, a first-year starter, despite the inconsistency in the passing game.
“I see him coming and progressing,” Miles said. “I think he was smart with the ball in that game more than in the past. I expect him to continue to develop. It’s his first year starting, his first series of big games in a row. It’s the first time he’s lining up in Tiger Stadium again and again and again. I see some growth there.”
Miles said he believes Mettenberger is ready to handle the magnitude of the Alabama game.
“The South Carolina game (a 23-21 LSU victory Oct. 13) was a game of this magnitude,” Miles said. “Certainly, A&M on the road was a game of this magnitude, and now there’s another next game of this magnitude. I really kind of hope that he translates it as, this is a West Division opponent and he just needs to do what we ask and not make too much of it.”
Williford to return soon?
Miles also said G Josh Williford, who has been sidelined since suffering a concussion against Florida on Oct. 6, “has worked and is getting close to practicing.”
Miles said he expects Williford to be available for the game against Alabama, but wouldn’t say whether Williford would get his starting position back, or if Trai Turner would continue in that spot.
“We’re going to go slowly there and make sure (Williford) is doing fine,” Miles said. “I’ve liked Trai. He’s working hard and giving us a real capable, very strong, very quick right guard.”
Miles said LB Luke Muncie, who didn’t make the trip to A&M because of an undisclosed medical issue, has practiced the last two days and is “pursuing it very aggressively.” ... The Tigers will practice Thursday and do conditioning work Friday before getting the weekend off.