"Never make predictions, especially about the future." - Casey Stengel
Let's get bold here for a second.
It's not something I like to do often. But I think Zach Mettenberger is in store for a big year. A really big year. Let me quantify: A big year for an LSU QB. If Zach Mettenberger throws for 3,175 yards this year, just 474 more yards than he threw for last season, or roughly 40 more yards a game, he will rank 5th on LSU's all-time passing leader board. Clearly we can't anticipate the LSU offense turning into the Mike Leach Air Fest with Mettenberger accruing 5,700 passing yards a la Graham Harrell. But 3,175 yards is a strong accomplishment in the context of our school's history. In fact, that would be the 2nd most productive single season passing yardage record in LSU history. That would place him above the much adored Rohan Davey, above the much maligned Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, above the Herb Tyler, and above the QBs of LSU's last two National Championship winners.
So what makes me so confident that Mettenberger is in store for a big season? I'll give you 5 Big Things.
1) The Alabama Turn Around
Let's just take a look at his game logs from 2012.
|1||2012-09-01||Louisiana State||North Texas||W||19||26||73.1||192||1||1||140.1||2||-25||-12.5||0|
|7||2012-10-13||Louisiana State||South Carolina||W||12||25||48.0||148||0||1||89.7||1||-6||-6.0||0|
|8||2012-10-20||Louisiana State||@||Texas A&M||W||11||29||37.9||97||1||0||77.4||4||-7||-1.8||0|
|10||2012-11-10||Louisiana State||Mississippi State||W||19||30||63.3||273||2||0||161.8||2||-10||-5.0||0|
Mettenberger started out fine, even against porous competition. He threw for strong rates, but the coaches limited his overall number of passing attempts, partially due to the level of competition, partially due to the overall conservative nature of the LSU offense. His rate stats were great, but his totals just average.
Then he took a total nose dive, going on a 5-game stretch completing less than 50% of his passes, topping the 200-yard mark only once... against Towson... while throwing only three total touchdowns (two of which came against Towson) against two INTs. It was ugly.
Then something funny happened. Something that could, in no way, be anticipated, because it happened against Alabama. Mettenberger played the finest game of his career. He completed almost 69% of his passes, nearly cracked the 300 yard barrier while setting a season high in passing yardage and didn't turn the ball over. In fact, Zach Mettenberger is the primary reason LSU stayed competitive in that game in the first place.
His play diminished a bit as the rest of the season wore on, but that singular game gave us a glimpse of how good he really could be.
2) The Hiring of Cam Cameron
There's not been much reason for optimism in the LSU offense for oh, five years now. Sans year one of Gary Crowton it's been a yearly trip down misery lane while our defense and special teams gut out victory after victory. Really, I think LSU fans in 2096 will look back at this run and say, "How the hell did they win so many games without an offense?"
Yet, I have full confidence Cameron is the guy who can right the ship. Why? He's experienced and he's proven productive. Cameron was a disaster of a head coach, but his track record as an offensive coordinator speaks for itself. He's coached Drew Brees and Philip Rivers through the early parts of their careers. He's coached LaDainian Tomlinson, Ray Rice, Antonio Gates, and the best career start to a year of Ronnie Brown's career (though he was injured after only 7 games).
It's not just the production that appeals to me, it's that it's a style that will mesh with Les. He wants to implement the Air Coryell passing dynamic, with a strong pass catching TE, flooding one side of the field with WRs and lots of vertical routes, but with a heavy emphasis on running the ball as well. I think there will be a trust from Miles that he may have never felt comfortable relinquishing to Studrawa and Kragthorpe. Not that Miles won't continue to play a part, but a better overall chemistry.
Cameron's history is strong, but I think he'll improve Mettenberger in even smaller things where he struggled last season, including some mechanical issues as well as his pocket presence. In fact, Mettenberger improving in these two problem areas exclusively will drastically raise the level of his performance and should prevent him from bottoming out in some games as he did last season.
3) Strong Decision Maker
As I reviewed the 2012 games, it occurred to me that Mettenberger doesn't lapse in the decision-making aspect of the game. That's an area neither Jordan Jefferson nor Jarrett Lee (and to a lesser extent, Matt Flynn), never excelled. Jefferson needed everything to play out in front of him before delivering the football - he was almost conditioned to not make mistakes. Lee, on the other hand, would just fire away, never learning to make his progressions.
This is not a problem area for Mettenberger. He generally reads things quickly and accurately. He's able to find multiple people in the passing game, including check downs to backs and safety valve TE routes. He looks off safeties.
The results are evidenced in his TD:INT ratio and strong passer rating.
4) Improved Receiving Corps
I mentioned earlier that he struggled over a five-game stretch in 2012, but I paid no heed to the fact that our receiving core was absolutely abysmal at times last season. Not enough work is done cataloging drops, but I'd wager the drops cost Mettenberger at least a percentage point in accuracy, a touchdown or two, and probably a couple hundred yards.
For one, we return more experience. Landry is no longer green. Beckham should feel less pressure to be a do-it-all man. Boone can be a role player instead of a potential no. 2. Dickson can actually have a clear role. Not to mention the mere presence of Travin Dural and DeSean Smith.
Overall it's just a stronger, more experienced core. Also worth mentioning that WR coach Adam Henry is now in his 2nd year with the program, so the additional experience from him is an added benefit. The players should be more familiar with his coaching and he should be more familiar with their abilities and how to deploy them.
5) Mechanical & Mental Improvements
Let's take a look at just a little bit of tape to get a feel for how Mettenberger has improved in this area. Obviously we haven't played a game yet in 2013, so I'll use the spring game tape as my example, comparing it to some tape from last season.
Jump to :04. Notice how "quiet" his feet are. He's not bouncing around, being finicky, or in a rush. It's a very calm, simple few steps and delivery of the football.
Now look at this tape:
It's not a perfect comparison, since we're talking a PA pass vs. a Shotgun snap, but jump to :29 of the Florida tape. His feet are a mess. His steps are odd. His base is too wide (notice in the spring game how much better his feet stay under him). The result, as Danielson says, "That one came out funny." Incompletion. Now look at ;39 of the spring game. A similar shotgun snap and this time much cleaner and controlled.
The good news is, his footwork isn't a total disaster. Actually, it can be really clean at times. But the inconsistency is likely a major reason we saw wild swings in his accuracy. When he gets his feet set and delivers the ball, the results are unequivocally awesome. Mettenberger has a lot of natural talents, including outstanding arm strength, and if he can harness those through improved technique, you'll see a dramatic jump in performance. Last year when his fundamentals wavered, so too did his performance. I think Cameron will be more apt to bring that consistency out in his play.
Another area he struggled with in 2012 was pocket presence. He simply didn't have a great feel for the rush that was coming. I'll attribute this largely to inexperience. I'm not sure there is any other way to learn it. Look at :57 on the Florida tape. That outside blitz, which was woefully blocked, by the way, gets him here. He shows zero realization that it's coming. I don't have tape to support this, but I'm willing to bet that 13 games under his belt will provide him with a better feel.
Mettenberger possesses elite physical talents. He's got a big, strong arm. He's a strong decision maker. He's got a good release.He's smart and charismatic.
I think the combination of a new (and better) coach, another year of experience, improved receivers and increased responsibilities will translate to a monster season for Mettenberger. This is his team. Last year he was still earning his stripes. Now, these are his boys, this is his rodeo. He's got something to prove. He needs to prove it for his football future; he needs to prove it for his football presence. The Alabama game is a fantastic example of what a focused, motivated Mettenberger can do. He's a goofy, silly guy off the field and I think his personality could cause him to lapse into times of lack of focus. I think the coaches are driving him harder than ever.
I believe 2013 will be the culmination of a lot of years of offensive frustration for LSU fans. This year is the pay off.
This is the year of Mettenberger.