LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, August 11, 2012 10:07 PM
Had it been a week ago, the curiosity piece of LSU’s first scrimmage of the preseason would have been Zach Mettenberger’s throwing.
But a day after marquee defensive back Tyrann Mathieu was booted from the team, the focus shifted to who Mettenberger was throwing at while completing 15 of 30 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday.
“Right now it’s kind of two young guys and we’re playing wait and see,” head coach Les Miles said of replacing the Heisman finalist at cornerback.
Saturday a true freshman — Jalen Mills of DeSoto, Texas — lined up in the Honey Badger’s old spot opposite Tharold Simon with the first unit at cornerback.
Miles said he’s sharing time with redshirt freshman Jalen Collins to replace Mathieu.
“It’s kind of an audition day, but it’s an ongoing piece while they’re learning the spot,” Miles said. “We might say this guy is a better coverage guy or this guy is better coming off the edge (rushing the passer or stopping the run). The guy that we pick that will stay there full time will do both.”
Mettenberger said he was pleased with his performance, which included a 55-yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham and a 31-yard score to James Wright.
“We went after the cornerbacks today,” Mettenberger said. “That’s the only way they’re going to get better. They made some big plays.”
Simon had the day’s only interception against Mettenberger.
“Tharold, with his long arms, he just snagged it out of the air,” Mettenberger said.
Miles said he isn’t rushing the competition at cornerback opposite Simon.
“While they’re learning the spot, we might use both guys,” Miles said.
More complicated is the Tigers’ nickel package, which utilizes five defensive backs and was the formation from which Mathieu did so much of his mischief forcing sacks and turnovers.
“There’s a lot of ways we could go there,” Miles said.
It could be, he said, a linebacker back there, and he mentioned backup safeties Micah Eugene and Ronald Martin as possessing the cover skills to come play in the nickel.
“We’re going to miss Ty, but we’re going to be fine,” Miles said. “Our guys realize that if there had been an injury (to Mathieu) we’d have to go on.”
“It’s a sad situation but we must go on,” defensive end Barkevious Mingo said, “We’ve done it before. This team knows how to replace talent. We’re deep in talent so we can easily do it.
“We just have to have those guys hopefully step up. They both had been doing great jobs in practice, even before he left.”
Miles said he was also happy with the Tigers’ running game, singling out true freshman Jeremy Hill, who had 71 yards on nine carries. Also, Kenny Hilliard had 31 yards on nine carries and Michael Ford 30 yards.
Meanwhile, Mathieu, who apparently is considering transferring to McNeese State, broke his Twitter silence to wish his former teammates well.
“So grateful to LSU and its fans,” Mathieu wrote on his Twitter account. “I wish those guys the best on their National title run. I’ll be you guys biggest fan.”
Miles said he told the team of Mathieu’s departure after Friday morning’s practice.
“I just told them the truth,” Miles said. “There was nobody in the room that was happy, including me, but we understand that this team has to go on. We play a lot of good football teams. We don’t need open wounds when we go off to play. We need to heal and get it right, and go play strong.”
“This hurts but we’re going to be fine,” said Mettenberger, who understands Mathieu’s plight better than most.
Mettenberger is at LSU only because he was booted from the Georgia team after he was arrested for groping a female patron in a bar two years ago.
“It’s like having your brother kicked off the team,” he said. “I’ve been there. We understand we lost a teammate, a great playmaker. We’re going to miss him a lot but we’ve got to handle this adversity.
“We’re going to have the same goals and hope to achieve them all.”