Zach Mettenberger surveyed the finely manicured Bermuda grass at Tiger Stadium and over the tops of his lineman’s helmets late in the second quarter with an easy route progression.
Working out of the shotgun with running back Jeremy Hill offset to his left, the senior quarterback saw White team receiver Odell Beckham perform a bland feat: Sprint past a cornerback down the left sideline and into the clear.
Lofting the ball from his 21-yard line, Mettenberger dropped a perfect throw to Beckham and over the helpless head of cornerback Matthew Gibson to the Purple’s 40-yard line, and Beckham coasted to the end zone.
White 16, Purple 0. Game effectively over. Fans’ appetite’s whetted for the heaving the ball deep in a 37-0 spring game rout.
After a conservative start in front of a curious 28,000 in the stands, the Tigers’ base offense hinted it might not be shy heaving the ball downfield and letting Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Kadron Boone and Travian Dural open up strides to haul them into waiting hands.
Or was Saturday an aberration?
“Most of that is because we were able to call our own plays,” said Mettenberger, who passed for 236 yards and two touchdowns on 12 of 19 throws. “If we can keep progressing and show some confidence, our coach will have some confidence in us this season.”
First, the caveat.
The Tigers’ base formations were so basic, a middle-school team could chart them. Often, LSU worked out of the Power I formation with a standard receiver on each side or flipped into a quarterback in the shotgun, an offset back and a two-by-one receiver set.
Yet, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s influence outside of altering terminology and gearing the passing game to deep outs, deep curls, skinny posts and go routes at the second level to stretch secondaries was clear, too.
“There’s a lot that I didn’t see today,” Miles said. “You saw a lot of simple function that was very good and a good representation of what we’ll be.”
Still, the White team, comprised mostly of starters, saw Mettenberger and back-up Stephen Rivers put up a combined 421 yards and four touchdowns on 19 of 29 passing — or roughly double the 200.4 yards per game that ranked No. 94 nationally last season. The piddling attack only mustered seven, count them, completions longer than 40 yards, or 3.3 percent of their total.
Granted, their receivers also accepted part of the blame for an anemic deep game.
“It wasn’t all on Zach last year,” said Beckham, who piled up 202 yards on six catches. “We had some things we had to figure, and it was just running all the way through the ball. That’s what happened today, and it ended up being productive.”
On Saturday, though, Mettenberger and Rivers had completions of 46, 50 and 79 yards combined. Freshman and Purple team starter Anthony Jennings, who was 8 of 21 for 98 yards, made a tough 35-yard throw to Boone down the right sideline that was perfectly placed to the receivers back shoulder and over cornerback Dwayne Thomas. Obviously, too, the emphasis on letting Cameron’s pupils air it out is appealing.
“Every play should be based off the deep ball, and if we can establish that, then it’s going to make everything else easier,” said Rivers, who had 185 yards and two touchdowns. “If we can complete the deep balls, then the short ones are going to be there.”
Perhaps more impressive was the effort came with all five LSU quarterbacks calling their own plays — another one of Cameron’s ideas — that made them responsible for factoring down, distance, personnel groupings along with time and score.
“It’s one that improved the quarterbacks,” Miles said. “It fills in for a younger quarterback or an older quarterback, some the things they need to have accomplished before they go into the game plan.”
Meanwhile, Cameron, who sat up in the booth for the first time after being on the field for three scrimmages, kept tabs on his quarterbacks’ logic and rationale if they needed help on a call.
“A lot of stuff is tough your first time calling plays and getting the personnel right,” Mettenberger said. “It’s going to be a little slow, but (by) the first game of the season, that’s what Coach Cam is paid to do.”
Equally soothing might have been the performance of Rivers, who had just 109 yards and completed 40 percent of his passes in scrimmages, along with the polish of Jennings.
“Anthony Jennings took his time with it, and considering that he was going against the first team defense with the second-team offense, he did it with poise and planning,” Miles said.
But it’s not enough to supplant Rivers. Yet.
“I don’t know we’re ready to say that considering how well Rivers played,” Miles said.
So, given all the evidence in front of them, how should LSU fans’ gauge Saturday? Mettenberger only chuckled.
“Whatever they want,” Mettenberger said.