East: On balance, Tigers offense has impressed

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings and running back Kenny Hilliard celebrate with fans after the second half Saturday in Tiger Stadium. LSU won 45-13. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings and running back Kenny Hilliard celebrate with fans after the second half Saturday in Tiger Stadium. LSU won 45-13.

If nothing else, first-year LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has given Southeastern Conference defensive coordinators more to worry about.

Auburn’s Ellis Johnson is the first SEC coordinator who has to prepare a plan for Cameron’s offense as the two sets of Tigers start preparations Sunday for this week’s league opener in Tiger Stadium.

Cameron and LSU haven’t revolutionized the way offense is played by any means. But when Auburn looks at LSU’s offense during its 3-0 start, it will see a lot of stuff that has worked pretty well, a lot of stuff that it needs to prepare to defend.

LSU can still run the ball, as it always has during Les Miles’ tenure, and Jeremy Hill appears close to being his old self after making his first start against Kent State on Saturday. The Tigers’ 307 yards on the ground against the Golden Flashes — not to mention a pair of 100-yard runners in Hill and Terrence Magee — sends the message that you can’t sleep on the running game while scheming for the improved passing attack.

In recent seasons, defenses have been willing to gang up on the LSU running game and take their chances with the passing game, though that strategy didn’t necessarily lead to victory. That’s because LSU’s running game, defense and special teams didn’t need a whole lot of help for the team to be successful.

This LSU team might not need eye-popping numbers from the passing game either, but so far it looks like it can count on a whole lot more from it. And that can only make things easier for the Tigers — and harder on opponents.

In the first three games, LSU has passed for 251, 293 and 264 yards, reviving a trend that surfaced late last season when the Tigers threw for more than 200 yards in each of their final four regular-season games.

The game against Alabama was a turning point for quarterback Zach Mettenberger; he threw for a season-high 298 yards to start the November run. So far this season, that type of game — in which the Tigers balanced Mettenberger’s passing with 139 hard-fought rushing yards against the No. 1 team in the country — has become the norm. LSU is averaging 219 rushing yards and 269 passing yards.

Of course, stiffer challenges await, but the Tigers too seem ready to offer stiffer challenges to SEC defenses.

“What we want to put on tape is that we can be balanced,” said wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who has team highs of 17 catches and five touchdown receptions. “We can run the ball when we want to and throw the ball when we want to. That’s what is going to separate us from other teams.

“We have a lot of confidence right now. We’re ready for SEC play. Last year by this time, we were struggling. Now you see guys making plays and a quarterback who has grown leaps and bounds.”

Offensive balance isn’t so much splitting plays and yards 50-50 between the running game and the passing game. It’s demonstrating that you’re equally capable of beating opponents either way.

So far, LSU has done just that.