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Tigers are Mettenberger’s Team

By Matt Smith
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Mettenberger admitted the 2012 Tigers weren’t completely his team, but expects that to change this fall.

A quarterback is more often than not the face of a football team. That hasn’t applied to LSU in recent years, where despite winning at least 10 games in all but two of Les Miles’ eight seasons, the Tigers have often left their rabid fans scratching their heads about the team’s offensive production, or lack thereof.

Miles hasn’t found the quarterback that could match JaMarcus Russell’s skill or Matt Flynn’s savvy, even during a 2011 season that saw LSU reach the BCS Championship Game for the second time in his tenure.

With a defense that saw six players with eligibility remaining leave early for the NFL, in addition to Tyrann Mathieu, who was dismissed from the team last August, LSU will be forced to rely on its offense, particularly the quarterback, more so than in any other year under Miles.

“We expect the quarterback play will be much better,” Miles said. “Certainly the experience and the want that he has, has helped in leadership, the commitment of a summer program, has all been seen.”

The man shouldering that burden is senior Zach Mettenberger, entering his second year as the Tigers starting quarterback. 2012 was somewhat of a mixed bag for Mettenberger, defeating Texas A&M and nearly upsetting Alabama, while at the same time failing to lead a touchdown drive in consecutive conference games against Auburn and Florida.

Consistency is a key for Mettenberger if the Tigers hope to win their second SEC West title in three years, especially with a schedule that has them facing both Florida and Georgia in inter-division games.

“I missed a lot of shots downfield for touchdowns,” Mettenberger said. “It’s definitely something I’ve been working on – my downfield accuracy.”

Junior wide receiver Jarvis Landry, whose touchdown reception from Mettenberger  against Alabama appeared for awhile to provide the game-winning points, believes his quarterback has matured both as a player and a leader after a year of experience in SEC play.

“His ability to lead is stronger over this past year,” Landry said. “I think that with him at the helm leading us is the way it’s supposed to be.”

Mettenberger admitted the 2012 Tigers weren’t completely his team, but expects that to change this fall.

“It was probably not all my team [last year]. This year, after we lost a lot of key guys on defense, I’m been trying to take a role in team leadership by myself.”

Mettenberger will have some additional assistance this season in the form of new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. A former head coach at Indiana, Cameron spent the past five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, although he was fired as offensive coordinator just prior to the Ravens’ postseason run that culminated with winning Super Bowl XLVII.

“He gives us a different scheme,” Landry said. “It gives us a different way to attack defenses.”

Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa has spent the past two seasons directing the Tigers offense, but moves back to being strictly a position coach this fall. The addition of Cameron, who turned the Ravens into one of the most successful deep passing teams in the NFL, sits well with Mettenberger.

“He accomplished a lot,” Mettenbeger said of Cameron. “Working with an NFL guy, he’s really wanted me to think like an NFL quarterback going into my senior year.”

“We always wanted to be a balanced team,” Miles added. “Cam has allowed us to do that more.”

In addition to having the roll of the SEC scheduling dice go against them, LSU also will face TCU in the Cowboys Classic on Aug. 31. The challenge of opening against one of the most respected defenses in the nation over the past few seasons has helped motivate Mettenberger and the LSU offense.

“It definitely helps the preparation of the guys,” Mettenberger said. “They work a little harder. They go the extra mile. We’re playing a big-time national TV game against a very good team.”

Landry said that while the Tigers take every opponent seriously, they are looking forward to playing in their third neutral-site opener in the last four seasons after hosting North Texas to begin the 2012 season.

“The game with TCU is a high-standard game as it is. It gives us a chance to set a bar for the rest of the season.”

Winning games by scores of 9-6 and 12-10, as it has in the previous two years, may not be realistic for the 2013 Tigers, as their defense breaks in a significant amount of new talent. While LSU games won’t all of a sudden mirror Big 12 shootouts Mettenberger’s 12 touchdowns and 59% completion percentage will not be good enough for the Tigers to attain most of their goals for this season.

“We’re looking forward to this offense,” Miles said. “We feel like we’ll have an opportunity to be very dominant there. Certainly, they’re playing much more confidently."

In a division that includes Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M and two-time national champion AJ McCarron at Alabama, LSU’s quarterback play has to at least rival that of the Aggies and Crimson Tide.

Landry, Cameron and the rest of the LSU offense should help Mettenberger, but for the first time in awhile, the Tigers will go (geaux?) only as far as their quarterback can take them.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.