LSU passing takes center stage

Slowly but surely LSU is changing its offensive identity.

Once known as a unit that leaned far more heavily on the run and was inconsistent with the pass, the Tigers offense has become much more versatile and is getting more notable for the pass than the run through five games.

LSU ranks 11th in the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards per game, fourth in passing yards per game and second in passing efficiency.

“Defenses are still really trying to stop our run,” quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. “Georgia did a pretty good job of that, but as you saw it left holes in the secondary and we were able to execute in the passing game so hopefully from here on out it’ll be more balanced. But we’ve shown that we’re more than a one-dimensional offense.”

The Tigers ran for 77 yards, and Mettenberger passed for a career-high 372 in a 44-41 loss at Georgia last Saturday.

Mettenberger’s 13 touchdown passes are one more than he threw all of last season, and he has just one interception. LSU is one of 10 teams in the country with just one interception and just three teams — Clemson, Oregon and New Mexico — have thrown zero interceptions.

“Last year you might have seen Zach wait until the last minute and try to use his arm,” wide receiver Jarvis Landry said. “Now he’s using his mind and his arm at the same time, and it’s paying off.

“He’s putting the ball in spots and throwing guys open. That’s the thing that’s separating him from other quarterbacks in the NCAA right now.”

LSU has accumulated more than 400 yards in each of the first five games for the first time in school history.

‘Little things’ help Landry

Landry has been Mettenberger’s most frequent target, catching 34 passes and scoring seven touchdowns. He has a touchdown catch in each of the first five games this season, which is a school record, and he has a touchdown catch in seven consecutive games overall, tying a school record.

Hard work in the offseason has paid off, Landry said.

“I was one of those guys who stayed in during intercession, didn’t go home,” Landry said. “I’d work out three or four times a day. I’d come in (the indoor practice facility) at 10 o’clock at night, just me and my girlfriend and she’d shoot balls out of the JUGGS machine. It’s the little things that are making a difference for me this year.”

State coy about QBs

As LSU prepares to face Mississippi State’s offense, it might be reminded of the days leading up to the season opener against TCU. Before that game, Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson was noncommittal about how he would use his quarterbacks.

Casey Pachall, who had led TCU to a 4-0 start last season before being arrested and entering alcohol rehab, was back and ready to go and Trevone Boykin, who replaced Paschal, was competing. Ultimately Paschal started and both played.

A similar situation is developing with the Bulldogs.

Fifth-year senior Tyler Russell is State’s incumbent quarterback, but Dak Prescott filled in while Russell was sidelined by a concussion he suffered in the season opener. Russell has been cleared to play, but Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said he won’t divulge his plans until game time.

“We’ll figure it out as we go,” Mullen said.

It seems likely that Russell will start, but Prescott, a redshirt sophomore who was recruited by LSU, might play also.

“I think Dak is a guy that can run it, throw it, very bright guy,” Tigers coach Les Miles said. “He’s a playmaker for them. We liked him. He chose to go to another direction. Certainly we wish him the best.”

Turnovers potential problem

Turnover margin has not been the advantage for LSU that it was last season when the Tigers took the ball away 16 more times than they gave it away.

LSU has taken the ball away just one more time than it has given it away, which is tied for sixth best in the SEC. That could lead to problems against State, which leads the conference at plus-5.

The Tigers have turned the ball over in every game and the only turnover that didn’t lead to points for the opponent was Terrence Magee’s fumble against Auburn, which likely cost LSU points because it came at the Auburn 7.

Penalties better, not good

Though the Tigers matched their season-low for penalties with five against Georgia, that has been a weakness overall. LSU, which also had just five against UAB, but had seven against TCU, 11 against Kent State and 10 against Auburn, is being penalized an average of 7.6 times per game, which is tied with Idaho at 106th out of 123 FBS teams.