Through the first eight games of the season, LSU had accumulated 1,419 passing yards for an average of 177 yards per game, which was just 25 yards better than 2011’s mark of 152.5 that ranked 100th in the nation.
The LSU receivers weren’t satisfied. Starting during the off week before LSU faced No. 1 Alabama, the wideouts began catching an extra 200 passes off a machine after workouts and before practice.
The surplus work is paying dividends. In the four games since the receivers implemented the additional catches, LSU has racked up 1,068 yards through the air for a 267-yard average — almost 100 yards better than the first half of the season.
“Now it’s just part of practice,” sophomore wide receiver Jarvis Landry said of the increased workload. “Everything pays off. Coming in after Bama, we just kind of turned it up a notch and I think that we started playing to our potential.”
Landry’s production the past four games has been a major factor in the Tigers’ improved passing game. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder had 23 catches through the first eight games of the season, but has reeled in 29 balls the past four games.
Landry had 222 yards after the first eight contests but has easily matched that the past four outings, amassing 320 yards since the off week.
“We started off slow,” Landry said. “You can’t really point out one (reason). It’s a little bit of everything. If we were on, something was off. It’s one of those things that we had to correct. We knew that we still had the opportunity to play for the national title going against Bama, so we kind of just opened ourselves up and went balls to the wall.”
Landry, in particular, has shined of late, snagging three of his four touchdowns this season in the past four games, including a spectacular diving, one-handed grab for a touchdown against Arkansas in the season finale.
The best news for the Tigers is that Landry’s increase in numbers hasn’t taken away from anyone else’s production. Fellow sophomore wideout Odell Beckham Jr., is still LSU’s leading receiver this season with 673 yards to his name — including a 112-yard showing against Arkansas — and he has increased his yard-per-game average the past four contests.
Beckham averaged 52.5 yards per game to start the season but has chipped in more than 63 yards per game in the past four contests.
So what’s been the biggest difference in the passing game recently?
According to the wide receivers, it’s the three C’s — confidence, comfort and chemistry.
“We know that we can pass on anybody,” Beckham said. “We like to show that. With a new system being put in the way it is … I knew it would take time. I didn’t know it would take as much time as it did to get it going like we did.”
LSU passed for more than 200 yards just twice in the first eight games but hasn’t thrown for less than 217 since the bye week.
The Tigers could continue that streak in Chick-fil-A Bowl, going against a Clemson defense that gives up more than 250 passing yards per game.
“I feel like Zach (Mettenberger) can come out and throw for however many yards he wants to,” Beckham said. “It’s all going to depend on what we run. It’s more of just focusing on what you have to do and be where you need to be. When the ball comes your way, just make a play.”
That’s been the other key for the Tigers in the passing game.
LSU struggled with dropped passes, overthrows and miscommunications early on in the season but have gelled more in recent weeks, something Mettenberger credits to the team’s growing maturity.
“It’s just guys growing up,” Mettenberger said, who also credited the offensive line’s play of late. “The receivers are running the routes like they’re supposed to and they understand that if they’re not getting the ball, someone else is getting the ball and they’re creating the open space for someone else.”
The junior quarterback has increasingly shared the wealth this season.
Five different LSU receivers have more than 200 receiving yards, and five different Tigers have been the leading receiver in a game this season, which Landry credits to the men behind the scenes.
“I can’t say enough about the coaching staff and the offensive line,” Landry said. “The things they’ve been doing that nobody sees, the extra time and things like that that they’ve done to get better, it’s just paying off.”