Improvement from LSU's passing game and starting quarterback is all but a certainty this season, the main question is about degrees. Many will try to quantify it in terms of familiar numbers that they're used to, or have seen from other quarterbacks, namely yards and touchdowns. 3,000 yards, 30 touchdowns, things like that. Don't get me wrong, yards and touchdowns are great and I hope to see quite a lot of them this fall. But there are more important ones that will really tell the story of just how effective Mettenberger and the Tiger air attack are.
Yards and touchdowns can be influenced by a lot of things, including defensive play. LSU's not going to keep winging it around the yard with a three or four touchdown lead, they're going to lean more on the talented group of tailbacks and shorten the game. And besides that, one of the main things I'm hoping for out of some new playcalling, is that if the running game is working, LSU will stick with it and not try to shoehorn the passing game in just because. Likewise, with a defense that might take a few weeks to gel, some of the early games against the likes of Casey Pachall and Aaron Murray might call for a little more aerial action to keep pace. And red zone play-calling is a huge factor in TD figures. Remember, Rohan Davey became LSU's first ever 3,000-yard passer with all of 17 touchdowns. LaBrandon Toefield was the recipient of so many short runs inside the 10-yard line that he set a new school record for single-season touchdowns with 19.
These numbers will be much more important ones to watch.
This is a good over/under spot for completion percentage. Anything over this will, in most seasons, put a quarterback securely in the top half of the country in passing accuracy. The importance of which goes without saying. For LSU in particular, it will most likely correlate with a better third-down conversion rate and touchdown percentage in the red zone. It will also likely mean that that wide receiver drops have also markedly declined.
With a strong-armed quarterback like Mettenberger, and all this talk of more down-field passing, this is a good average yards-per-attempt number for the offense to shoot for. Eight yards-per-attempt will put you in the top 30 in the country in most years, so even getting within a few tenths of a percentage point of it is a good indicator of passing proficiency. No LSU quarterback has topped the figure since Jamarcus Russell in 2006, but last year lots of very productive players like Landry Jones, Seth Doege and Colby Cameron were in the 7.7 range. Mettenberger himself was at 7.4, not that far off. And it was the highest YPA figure any LSU quarterback has had in more than 200 passing attempts since Russell.
This feels like another good over/under point, this time for turnovers. Last season, Mettenberger accounted for 10 combined (7 interceptions, three lost fumbles). Don't get me wrong, the fewer the better, but if the offense wants to take more shots down the field this season, that style of play will often lead to an extra turnover or two. One of the most important things in this style of offense is that a quarterback is willing to pull the trigger and make the throw. Getting the ball out is paramount. The offense lives with the consequences, and if the QB has ball security in check the production numbers usually skyrocket.
If Mettenberger can match some combination of these numbers, he'll be one of the better quarterbacks in the country, and in the SEC. Obviously, there's a give and take. A QB averaging 9 or 10 yards per attempt can afford a slightly lower completion rate, because the throws that he's making are still leading to a lot of big plays. Conversely, if Mettenberger is completing 70 percent of his passes at 7.5 yards per, he's still moving the chains with a lot of short- and medium-range throws. Doing these things are going to lead to the yardage and touchdown numbers that grab your eyes in a box score. Combine that with an effective running game and that's the LSU offense we've been hoping to see for all these years.