August 11, 2011
The least you should know about the 2011 Tigers. Part of SEC Week.
• The Illusionist. Call him crazy, call him lucky, call him time sensitive, but you can't deny that coach Les Miles finds ways to win, even if they are unconventional. In 2010 alone, the bounce-pass fake field goal with the game on the line at Florida, a slew of trick plays against Alabama and Tennessee's 13-man defense all caused at least one columnist to speculate that Miles had struck a deal with the devil.
Maybe he did, because otherwise it's difficult to explain how LSU managed to pull off an 11-2 season in the SEC West with such poor clock management and one of the worst passing offenses in the country. With 15 starters returning and a slew of players with experience, the bar is once again set high for the Tigers. Alabama could very well be the only thing standing between LSU and a possible national championship berth. They have the talent to do it, but will Miles continue leading a charmed football life?
• Dueling quarterbacks. In a perfect world, third-year starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson would be heading into his senior season with few worries. But his erratic passing last season put him in a quiet quarterback battle with senior Jarrett Lee and sophomore Zach Mettenberger.
The position is still Jefferson's to lose despite calls for Mettenberger to get his shot. Jefferson completed just 56 percent of his passes for 1,411 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but his 450 rushing yards and seven scores help. Mettenberger, a Georgia transfer who is currently third on the depth chart, might be the best of the three contenders, but the coaches aren't ready to turn the reins over to him quite yet because he doesn't have the same grasp of the offense as the two seniors.
Mettenberger's only playing experience since high school came last season at Butler Community College in Kansas where he threw 32 touchdowns to just four interceptions and led Butler to the national championship game. Granted, that was in junior college and not in the SEC, but if the Tigers start to struggle offensively — LSU threw just 10 touchdown passes last season — look for an outcry for Mettenberger to see the field.
• Third and manageable. The running game was LSU's best offensive weapon a year ago averaging 185.7 yards per game. That should hold true again this year despite the loss of leading rusher Stevan Ridley, who led the team with 1,147 yards and 15 touchdowns. Sophomore Spencer Ware saw limited action last season, but had a breakout night in the Cotton Bowl and turned in a 94-yard, two-touchdown performance in the spring game that all but solidified his role in the starting lineup. And Jefferson is also a proven rushing commodity that should take the pressure off Ware as he gets acclimated as the starter.
The Tigers need to have a good rushing game because, as referenced above, the passing game let them down mightily. Many drives stalled last season after the Tigers failed to convert on obvious passing downs.
• The kids are alright. It's easy to be concerned about the secondary after the loss of All-Universe cornerback Patrick Peterson and fellow senior Jai Eugene, but returning corners Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Ron Brooks should be steady enough to keep LSU's 10th-ranked pass defense among the nation's elite. Mathieu, Claiborne and Brooks combined for 127 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and eight interceptions, including a team-leading five by Claiborne, a preseason All-SEC pick by league coaches.