Zach Mettenberger’s coming out party last week apparently came as a bigger surprise to the shocked house in Tiger Stadium than it did the Tigers themselves.
Mettenberger, a convenient scapegoat for LSU’s inconsistent offense most of the season, came alive for a career-high 298 yards passing against Alabama, carving up the nation’s No.1-ranked defense during a 25 of 34 night with a touchdown and no interceptions.
He was especially effective in moving the chains, going 7-for-7 on third-down throws, all for first downs.
He certainly didn’t look like the Southeastern Conference’s 12th-ranked passer.
He looked, well, like the quarterback his coaches and teammates knew was lurking there inside him.
“We have seen that routinely from him in practice,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
“I can understand how people can be surprised,” Mettenberger said. “But it wasn’t surprising to me at all. I knew I was capable of a game like that.
“You ask guys on the team. They’ve seen me do that everyday in practice. It was just fortunate that things started clicking offensively.”
The big question, of course, is whether or not it was a fluke, whether he can keep it going tonight when the Tigers (7-2, 3-2 SEC) host No. 22 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2), their fifth straight ranked opponent. Game time is 6 p.m.
Even in his breakout game, in which he rallied LSU from an 11-point deficit to a 17-14 lead over the top-ranked Tide, it wasn’t enough for the Tigers to hold on for the upset.
Thus, a lot of their preseason goals disappeared on the night when Miles finally saw the kind of balance he’s been searching for in the offense.
“A championship-style football team is still very much our need and want,” Miles said of the current goals. “Things have to play out for me. I am an eternal optimist, and I feel like if a door is open to us, we’ll come in.
“The opportunity to do some very significant things this season is still in front of this team.”
If nothing else, there’s the new toy factor for a team that has had only fleeting success throwing the ball since the 2007 national championship season.
“We want to roll with it, that’s for sure,” Mettenberger said.
Even with defenses stacked up to stop it, LSU has run the ball well all year, particular of late with the emergence of freshman Jeremy Hill as the go-to guy in a deep stable of runners. He has had three straight 100-yard rushing games.
“From here on out we want to put our foot down and make a statement against the rest of these teams,” said wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who caught eight of Mettenberger’s passes against Alabama, including a 14-yarder for the go-ahead touchdown. “Show that we can move the ball on the ground and in the air.”
Mississippi State opened the season with seven straight wins over unranked opponents, but has been routed in the last two weeks — 38-7 by Alabama and 38-13 by Texas A&M.
It could be a chance for LSU to further show its new-found passing game as the Bulldogs are ninth in the SEC in total defense, eighth in pass defense.
“We have to play like that every time,” Miles said. “Let’s go throw for 300 or more and rush for 200 or more. Let’s be that style offense.”
“Hopefully, we’ll have a great rhythm and keep clicking this week,” Mettenberger said. “It’s contagious. Everybody on the offense starts feeling it. When things start clicking and rolling, it’s tough to stop any offense.”