Towson wide receiver Gerrard Sheppard catches a touchdown pass against LSU cornerback Jalen Mills during the second half Saturday night in Baton Rouge. Third-ranked LSU defeated Towson 38-22. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Sunday, September 30, 2012 8:03 PM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Zach Mettenberger's confidence in himself and LSU's offense remains unshaken, even as the first-year starting quarterback struggles to explain why the Tigers have muddled through their last two victories against heavy underdogs.
On Sunday, unbeaten LSU (5-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) dropped a spot in the AP poll for the second straight week. Once as high as No. 2, LSU slipped from third to fourth in the Top 25 rankings following a sloppy 38-22 victory Saturday night over Towson of the second-tier FCS.
"I know games like this, when we play teams like Towson, it just seemed liked guys were not into it," Mettenberger said. "It is tough to get into a game like that, but if you are a great player it shouldn't matter. ... We are still a very talented team, we just have to continue to try and get better."
The Tigers hoped a tense 12-10 victory at Auburn on Sept. 22 was an understandable blip — something that can happen to anyone when playing a desperate team on the road in the SEC. In the week following that game, LSU players talked about the need to re-establish a crisp and efficient offensive tempo against visiting Towson.
Instead, a combination of three turnovers, four sacks and several missed throws — albeit on a rainy night — allowed an overmatched opponent to play LSU much closer than expected. LSU's final victory margin over Towson represented only a two-possession gap, and one of LSU's touchdown drives went only 8 yards after Towson's Jordan Love fumbled fair catch.
During each of the next two weekends, LSU will face currently unbeaten, Top 10 SEC opponents. First comes a trip to 10th-ranked Florida (4-0) next weekend, followed by a meeting with No. 6 South Carolina (5-0) in Death Valley on Oct. 15.
"Am I alarmed? Yes," LSU coach Les Miles said. "It is time that we recognize that we cannot go on the path that we are on. It is not productive, and it is not the football we are used to."
Mettenberger was on pace to pass for fewer than 200 yards for a second straight week until he found Odell Beckham Jr. for a 53-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. As picture perfect as that play looked, the fact that the starters were still on the field in the final quarter against Towson spoke to how far short LSU fell of expectations that it would win in a romp.
Even LSU's generally dominant defense was disappointed in its inability to keep Towson out of the end zone three times. This was the same LSU defense that did not allow any touchdowns to No. 23 Washington of the Pac-12, and which yielded only one TD at Auburn, and only gave up that score after an LSU turnover in its own territory. Towson finished with 188 yards rushing against a defense that came into the game allowing an average of only 57 yards on the ground.
"We played down to our competition," defensive end Lavar Edwards said. "We needed to be much more consistent throughout the game."
Towson finished with a time of possession advantage of 34:42 to 25:18. That stemmed in large part from the inability of LSU's offense to sustain drives. For Edwards and the rest of the defense, having to keep retaking the field after the Tigers offense stalls "gets frustrating at times."
"But as a defense we have to be prepared for anything and everything," Edwards added. "We are always going to go out and play hard and get stops no matter what happens with our offense. We want to give our offense as many opportunities as we possibly can."
The theme in LSU's locker room afterward was that there had been a palpable lack of enthusiasm across the roster for the Tigers' final non-conference tuneup and that they did not foresee similar issues as they prepare to go to the Swamp.
"We are a good football team and there are things we need to get accomplished this week," Miles said. "Our team will come to work with much more focus on Monday."