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LSU head coach Les Miles. (Associated Press)

LSU head coach Les Miles. (Associated Press)

Hobbs: LSU's passing game needs to make real progress

Last Modified: Thursday, October 04, 2012 10:28 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Here it is five games into the much-anticipated Zach Mettenberger Era, and so far you’d have to say he’s way behind schedule in the LSU plan to revolutionize the Tigers’ offense and lay waste to the Southeastern Conference.

What a letdown, huh?

All those summer promises, all the assurances that Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee were finally out of eligibility, the August oohing and aahing (behind closed doors) of bullets and darts and high-arching completed bombs, of wide receivers who couldn’t stop smiling and … false alarm.

Same old same old.

Was it live or was it Jordan Jefferson?

If nothing else, Mettenberger was officially initiated into the LSU quarterback fraternity last Saturday when a scattering of Tiger Stadium boos accompanied his lost fumble in the second quarter against Towson.

“LSU is a tough place to be a quarterback, for sure,” Mettenberger said earlier this week. “It’s a tough job for sure, but I signed up for it. This is what I want to do with my life. I’ve got to have thick skin to play here.”

Welcome to LSU, Zach.

Tiger fans have shown their usual patience under the circumstances, which is to say the hottest social media topic over the weekend fretted about why Mettenberger sat alone at the end of the bench during offensive breaks. Speculation was rampant that it was because none of his teammates wanted to be around what was deemed to be the worst and ugliest mustache in college sports.

No one can say Mettenberger hasn’t learned from his mistakes.

The big news on campus this week was that Mettenberger had responded to his critics by shaving off the offending facial hair.

“I thought I was going to keep the mustache all year,” Mettenberger explained, “but the offense wasn’t clicking. I had to do something. The mustache has not been good luck, point blank. Hopefully, the no-mustache look, (the) clean-shaven look will bring us some good luck, some magic.”

At this stage, it makes as much sense as anything.

Make no mistake, Miles wants to have an effective vertical passing game.

Pay no mind to the tired clichés of how Miles will always be, first and foremost, a power-running guy, just like Bo Schembechler taught him at Michigan back in football’s stone age.

Miles has thrown with abandon in the past when JaMarcus Russell or Matt Flynn were slinging it around to first-round picks running circles around secondaries.

Mettenberger has the arm. It is certainly an upgrade over the Jefferson & Lee composite model. LSU’s wide receivers have the talent.

LSU even has some good ball plays, zigs and zags as high tech as the next team.

But right now the downfield, big-gulp passing game just isn’t ingrained in the Tigers’ DNA.

It doesn’t come naturally yet.

You still hold your breath and expect the worst when they drop back.

Evidently it’s not as simple as merely bringing in the big gun, snapping your fingers and wiping away four years of hit-and-miss throwing.

There has been the usual hopeful and wishful thinking that LSU has been holding back on the top-secret good parts of the arsenal, which Miles kind of confirmed.

“There are some parts of the playbook that haven’t been touched yet,” he said. “That’s for the future anyway. It was never going to be for those games that you have (in) hand.”

Well, the future is now with a trip to Florida on tap Saturday.

Despite Miles warning, look for the Gators to load up the box Saturday and beg LSU to throw anyway.

That will be the blueprint on holding LSU down until the Tigers prove otherwise.

And there aren’t any more exhibition walk-throughs.

“It’s definitely been some growing pains,” Mettenberger said. “From a pride standpoint, this offense is not where I want it to be.”

Mettenberger, to be sure, is not the whole problem. Wide receivers have been inconsistent and the line has struggled to protect him. But the quarterback will always be the focus and, ultimately, he is pulling the trigger.

He has shown some signs he can make any throw.

Miles, in particular, likes the way he shakes off the numerous miscues, with some of his best plays coming shortly after a blunder.

But there have been way too many blunders for a coach like Miles who despises turnovers. Mettenberger has thrown only two interceptions but has lost three very costly fumbles in the last two games.

Miles has always liked a mobile quarterback, a player who can extend plays and make something out of nothing. It’s a real asset for the spot, he says.

Then he added, “That, frankly, is not something we are looking for from him (Mettenberger). We’re really not looking for him to extend the play much. We would like to get it out of his hands.”

Translation: Don’t mess it up.

It’s a fragile position, particularly at LSU, even more so when the expectations were so high.

Miles does seem to be babying his new quarterback, seeing no evil, publicly at least, after each extensive film study.

Backup center Elliott Porter, for instance, must still be wondering why he had to take the blame for a center snap that appeared to be perfect before Mettenberger fumbled it on the Auburn 1-yard line.

“I think our quarterback play is, by and large, very good,” Miles said this week.

Potentially, he’s right but it’s still a work in progress that, honestly, doesn’t seem to have been challenged enough to get noticeably better from the first game to the fifth.

They will need to see real progress this week in a tough Swamp to do it.

•••

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU sports. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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