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April 3, 2012
Depth still present
Everyone came out at Tiger Stadium on Saturday afternoon for one reason - observe new starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
The Tigers have not possessed an efficient passing game for most of the past four seasons with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee as the quarterbacks. There has been great hype surrounding Mettenberger, the strong-armed quarterback who had been at two schools before settling in at LSU.
After a slow start, Mettenberger didn't disappoint the 33,000 fans who came out for the spring football game. On the first two series, Mettenberger completed one of six passes. The one completion - a 54-yarder to Jarvis Landry - could have been knocked down if Jalen Collins hadn't misjudged the throw.
But, after those first two possessions, Mettenberger was pretty accurate with 13 completions in 19 attempts (68 percent) for 216 yards and two touchdowns - a 53-yarder to Odell Beckham and a 19-yarder to Russell Shepard.
Mettenberger certainly has the ability to connect on more than a few deep balls during the 2012 season. That threat will definitely help the Tigers' running game. Don't forget that LSU's bread-and-butter on offense will still be that ground attack.
But, teams will have to be conscious of the long ball from Mettenberger. The Tigers will have that quick-strike ability. There may be four misses, but the next one could always be that game-turning touchdown.
While LSU coach Les Miles expressed his happiness with Mettenberger's deep-ball throwing ability, he gave equal time to the red-zone interception. Mettenberger forced a pass which was picked off by safety Ronald Martin in the end zone.
There was another interception for Mettenberger, but he had no blame for that turnover. A catchable ball hit off the hands of tight end Tyler Edwards. Freshman linebacker Lamar Louis grabbed the deflected pass and returned the ball 74 yards for a touchdown.
Now, there were a few other points one could make after watching Saturday's intrasquad game. There is work to be done by new secondary coach Corey Raymond. LSU has talent among its young defensive backs, but there is virtually no experience.
The Tigers need junior safety Craig Loston to remain healthy. If he doesn't miss time due to injuries, LSU would have four solid starters - Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon at the corners and Eric Reid and Loston at the safeties.
Then, it becomes a matter of developing the young defensive backs for roles in the nickel and dime packages. Martin had the interception of Mettenebrger. Cornerbacks Collins and David Jenkins were beaten on more than one occasion by wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
But, Collins did come back with a couple of breakups, while Jenkins knocked down a pass. Safety Micah Eugene was credited with four tackles, while playing for the No. 1 defense in the absence of Loston.
The most pleasant aspect of the spring game was the final score - 24-17. The No. 2 units, for the most part, hung in with the starters. In the first quarter, the White tailbacks were limited to 18 yards on six carries. Russell Shepard, who had one running attempt out of the shotgun, lost five yards.
Of course, one just needs to examine the personnel on LSU's second defensive line - ends Lavar Edwards and Jermauria Rasco and tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson - to see why the top backs had some problems. Those four players combined for 13 tackles, including 2½ for losses.
The young linebackers did quite well. Middle linebacker D.J. Welter had five tackles. Ronnie Feist and Louis, who were early enrollees in January, were responsible for seven and five tackles, respectively. The Tigers' front seven will not be lacking in depth this fall.
The other area which displayed no shortage of Southeastern Conference performers was running back. Alfred Blue and Spencer Ware, who were the backs for the White, combined for 124 yards and averaged 7.3 yards per carry after a slow start.
Meanwhile, Kenny Hilliard and Jeremy Hill, the backs for the Purple, combined for 77 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. On the opening three series, those two tailbacks rushed a total of eight times for 52 yards. Remember that Michael Ford, the top rusher from 2011, sat out the spring game.
The rushing totals by Hilliard and Hill indicate the No. 2 offensive line was doing a good job against the No. 1 defense. That group consisted of left tackle Chris Davenport, left guard Josh Dworaczyk, center Elliott Porter, right guard Trai Turner and right tackle Vadal Alexander, another early-enrollee.
When a spring game matches the first strings against the second strings, the final score is usually rather lopsided. Granted that one of the Purple touchdowns came with numerous walk-ons on the field, still the one-score differential shows many of LSU's backups are SEC ready. That's a good sign.
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