LSU is miles away


First-year LSU QB Zach Mettenberger struggled last week against Auburn, fumbling twice in a close win. The Tigers' passing offense ranks 12th in the SEC, averaging just 194.5 yards per game. (Photos by The Associated Press/Photo illustration by Adam West)

Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 10:49 p.m.

LSU may have escaped The Plains, but there's a bumpy road ahead.

Last week's narrow 12-10 win over Auburn only showed that the third-ranked Bayou Bengals have a lot of holes to patch up as they stare down the barrell of a loaded October.

Luckily, they face FCS opponent Towson (2-1) this week before a tough three-game stretch — at Florida, vs. South Carolina, at Texas A&M.

LSU coach Les Miles says his team has to “recognize that the development that you're going through in each practice is going to in some way hold you in better standing or in lesser standing as you go forward into what will be the meat of our schedule. Our guys understand it. I think they've heard it enough.”

One glaring area of concern is the team's passing game under first-year starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Kenny Hilliard and a stable of running backs are picking up the slack for an aerial attack that is 12th in the SEC, producing just 194.5 yards per game.

Mettenberger has completed 68 percent of his passes for 778 yards and four touchdowns, but he's thrown two red-zone interceptions. The junior struggled last week against Auburn, going 15-for-27 while fumbling twice in the first quarter.

“I mean we got the win,” Mettenberger told the Shreveport Times. “That's the most important thing. But I really think that game is going to be an eye-opening experience for this team. Hopefully guys will realize that we're not necessarily just going to get by on talent alone. We've really got to work hard day in and day out.”

LSU's pass protection is a concern as Mettenberger has been sacked seven times. The offensive line had to do some shuffling when left tackle Chris Faulk suffered a season-ending knee injury during practice in early September. He's been replaced by Josh Dworaczyk, who usually plays at guard.

Both Dworaczyk and All-SEC right tackle Alex Hurst were beat time and again by Auburn defensive ends Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford. Lemonier beat Dworaczyk for two sacks, and Mettenberger was hurried throughout the game.

“I think our guys have responded in terms of pocket structure and protecting our quarterback,” Miles said. “I think the guys have responded in a number of ways, but I think it's the understanding that (those things are) fundamental to winning. If you want to be a team that in the back end of the season has the opportunity to play for everything, you're going to have to learn that.”

LSU also has to address its issues with turnovers and penalties.

The Tigers have coughed up the ball five times in four games. Miles would much rather punt the ball to the opposing team and lean on his defense, which is ranked third nationally in yards allowed (199.5 per game).

Meanwhile, LSU is tied with Florida and Georgia for the most penalties in the SEC with 32.

Miles says his team needed to be tested like it was last week. But with a difficult October now looming, and a November that begins with Alabama, this week's game against Towson is the last tuneup it gets.

“Our goal this week is to clean everything up and just really get better as an offensive unit,” Mettenberger said. “We can't have another sloppy performance. We need to go out there and be sharp and execute. It's not necessarily a statement game, but really it's a game for us just to get better. And we're going to use this week of practice and that game and the next of practice to get ready for Florida.”

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