This offseason, following the departures of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee (long-awaited ones, if you'd asked many LSU Tigers fans) Les Miles promised the ascension of big-armed pocket passer Zach Mettenberger would mean a more open, more pass-friendly LSU offense. And for the duration of Saturday's LSU spring game, Miles made good on that promise--mostly, it appears, for the better.
Despite Miles's pregame claim that things would be "very vanilla," Mettenberger wound up throwing the ball on 25 of his White team's 44 offensive plays, completing 14 of them for 270 yards and two touchdowns.
"It was vanilla ... with sprinkles," Miles joked afterwards. "I think the ability to throw the football is better. It just appears to me there's a little bit more juice in the ball, a little bit more ability."
Though that "more ability" quote could be read as a dig in Jefferson's and Lee's direction, contrasting Mettenberger's day with those put forth by Jefferson and Lee in 2011 makes it clear Miles might even be selling his new quarterback short. Jefferson finished 4-of-14 with an interception and no touchdowns and Lee averaged a meager 4.5 yards per attempt; meanwhile, thanks to three different completions of 49 yards or more -- one a 54-yard completion to Jarvis Landry on the run which drew a set of oohs and aahs from the crowd of 33,000 -- Mettenberger finished the game averaging a whopping 10.8 yards per attempt.
"I thought it was a good day," Mettenberger said. "We had a lot of fun out there, and that's the most important thing."
It wasn't a perfect day for for the former JUCO quarterback, who also threw a pair of interceptions, one of them a poor decision in the end zone immediately following the long completion to Landry. Miles wasn't happy about that decision, but was also ready to take the good with the bad.
"He has really improved and he continues to, but he made a mistake on the interception in the end zone," Miles said. "He really forced a ball he didn't need to throw. But I like his competitiveness. It's fiery. It's who he is. He's got confidence and swagger."
For all of Jefferson's occasional bluster, confidence both from the LSU quarterback position and in the quarterback position from the rest of the roster has occasionally been in short supply the past few seasons. Given both the response of Mettenberger's teammates and the faith shown by Miles in having him put the ball in the air as often as he did Saturday, there's plenty of both.
If Mettenberger can make good on that confidence this fall, the Tigers could -- and should -- put together an offense worthy of the preseason No. 1 ranking, given that their veteran line and overpowering cadre of tailbacks promise quite the healthy running game. A legitimate threat from the quarterback position has often seemed like the only thing missing from the entire LSU roster, and on the basis of Saturday, Mettenberger can be that threat.
The only downside for Miles is that if Mettenberger is that threat, it'll only beg the question: given what we saw from Jefferson and Lee at this time last year, why wasn't he given the chance to be that threat in 2011?
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