Not gonna lie, the lack of math requirements was a huge plus in the whole mass communication major at LSU. That being said, it has its value when it comes to sports analysis. Here are a couple of facts and figures about the 2012 LSU offense. And maybe, just maybe, we can figure out just why things are going the way they are for this team, and how they can begin to work their way out of this hole.
- 47 ... The average length in yards of LSU's opening drive of every game this season, on six plays (7.8 yards per play). The Tigers have taken the ball and gotten points of some kind three times on their first possession this season, and in the other three games, the drive only ended via an unforced error: a fumbled snap (Auburn), or dropped passes (Washington and Towson).
- 61 ... LSU's point total in six first quarters this season.
- 6.1 ... LSU average yards per carry on first-down running plays. The Tigers are running on 70 percent of first downs.
- 6.8 ... Zach Mettenberger's average yards per first-down passing attempt, with a 9.9 average per completion. LSU averages 8.6 first-down passes per game, slightly up from last season.
- 69.2 ... His completion percentage on those throws. It drops exactly 10 points on second down.
- 17 ... The percentage of Mettenbger's 144 passing attempts this season in which he was hurried or sacked by the defense. This translates to LSU's quarterback being hurried once every six times he drops back to throw.
- 14 ... The number of times LSU has been forced to punt in three plays, following an incompletion or sack of Mettenberger on first down. LSU has punted 30 times this season. So 47 percent of those kicks have followed a failed first-down passing play.
- 3.7... LSU's average yards per carry on second-down running plays. The 2011 squad averaged 4.6 on second downs.
- 69 ... The percentage of third-down plays of six yards or shorter that Mettenberger has converted with a pass. LSU is also converting 56 percent of their third-and-short runs.
- 24 ... The percentage of third down plays of seven yards or longer that Mettenberger has converted with a pass. LSU hasn't converted a third down of four yards or longer with a run at all this season (0-11).
So what can we infer from all of this information? For starters, this offense is doing a solid job of gameplanning for opponents. The Tigers have, by and large, consistently been able to script the opening quarter of their first six games. That's reflected in the opening drive stats and that first-quarter point total, nearly double what LSU scored in the first period last season. The issue is in the adjustment, both how opponents adjust to the Tigers, and how they adjust to their own mistakes.
Clearly, Mettenberger has been pretty good when it comes to passing on first down, when the defense has to defend both run and pass. But the offense is bogging down in obvious passing situations, due to the protection issues, drops and an inability to make up the difference on the ground. First down plays that either fail to gain, or lose yardage, put this offense in holes they are struggling to get out of. If the pass is incomplete, the running game isn't good enough to turn second-and-10 into third-and-manageable, and if there's a loss of yardage, that just creates another obvious passing situation. However, when the third downs are of a reasonable distance, the offense is doing a solid job of converting.
Aside from the obvious improvements needed (i.e. the dropped passes and penalties), it seems to me that one of the two numbers here has to increase: either LSU's first-down running percentage, or Mettenberger's first-down completion percentage. This offense has to get better at avoiding long-yardage situations on third down, and judging by these numbers, the best way to do that would be to ensure that first down gains positive yardage as often as possible. The first-down running average is almost certainly padded by the cupcake games on the schedule, but that doesn't change the fact that even a 3-4 yard gain puts this team in a better position to get to a manageable third. If the offense is going to throw on first down, the passes need to be quick plays that are high-percentage and low-risk. Plays like the slant, curl, bubble screen or swings to the running backs aren't exactly the sexy plays that get fans excited, but they A) limit the liabilities in pass protection, and B) possibly keep the receivers from having to catch the ball in traffic, something that might help with the dropped passes. Just as with the running game, if a pass can just gain a few yards, it will put the offense in a much better position to extend the drive. And when the offense has stayed on schedule, and on script, we've seen positive results. There can be a time for more creativity when the offense has the consistency to cover its mistakes, but right now, the first priority has to be to find that consistency.