LSU’s Zach Mettenberger was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week Monday morning, just before head coach Les Miles got the first question regarding a possible Heisman campaign for the red-hot quarterback.
But headed into a key game with Florida this week, most of LSU’s question marks continue to center around a defense that has given up almost 1,000 yards in the last two weeks.
Mettenberger, who leads the SEC and is fourth nationally in passing efficiency, is directing an offense that is on pace to shatter a host of school records.
“I would expect Zach would handle that kid of scrutiny, if you will, pretty well, considering the things he’s already kind of handled,” Miles said of any possible Heisman talk.
“But I think we’re kind of putting the cart before the horse here. I think you’ll find that all those people who are in the running for national awards, their team does extremely well.”
For that to happen, the No. 10-ranked Tigers (5-1, 2-1 SEC) will likely need more help from their struggling defense. Miles, however, was encouraged that, after a first-half shootout against Mississippi State that picked up where the Georgia game left off, LSU only gave up a single field goal in the second half.
“I think they took a really nice stride last Saturday,” Miles said. “I think our guys will see this film and go, ‘Yeah, that what we’re capable of, that’s the way we need to play.’”
For the game, however, the Bulldogs finished with 468 yards, only 26 fewer than Georgia had the previous week.
“I felt like the (defensive) staff did a great job,” Miles said, explaining that Mississippi State, which had two weeks to prepare, opened the game with a wide array of formations and pass routes that hadn’t been shown previously.
“Defense needed some adjustments,” he said. “I thought they did a really fine job (in the second half).
“I liked this game, especially later in the game when our defensive linemen were handling 2-on-1 and 1-on-1 blocks and still making point-of-attack tackles.
“The defensive line up front is continuing to play better, and must.”
The youth movement on defense was accelerated last week, particularly in the secondary, where an injury to senior safety Craig Loston forced some shuffling.
Sophomore Corey Thompson started in place of Loston and, with the Tigers going mostly with five defensive backs, cornerback Jalen Mills moving to nickel back and freshman Rashard Robinson at cornerback.
“That was where Rashard was ready to play,” Miles explained. “He’s most capable of the corner spot, then we have a good nickel back in Mills.
“I liked Corey Thompson,” Miles said. “I thought he handled his position very well. He made some tackles. There were some times that I didn’t like his angle to the tackle, but ... he’s playing his first starting role. I’m going to accept that he will continue to improve. I think you can win with Thompson.”
Miles said he expects Loston back this week, but was less sure about starting outside linebacker Tahj Jones, who has missed the last three games.
Either way, Miles hinted that he might play more younger players at the already-young linebacker spot in the future.
“It will be interesting,” he said. “There’s a number of young (line)backers there than can see the field. There’s some athletic guys that we’ve yet to get to the field as frequently as we’d like.
“We’ll have to see. I think there (could be) some movement there. It’s one of those spots we have some talented guys.”
“I think there’s definitely room for improvement. I don’t think that we’ve gotten to the high side of the water mark of our defense.”