Nine months after his LSU career ended with a serious knee injury, quarterback Zach Mettenberger is still inspiring his former coaching staff and teammates as well as the new Tigers on campus.
Now playing for the Tennessee Titans, Mettenberger fired a 64-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hunter in Friday night’s 31-24 exhibition loss to the New Orleans Saints — which the Tigers saw before a team meeting that preceded Saturday’s closed 120-play scrimmage.
“It just happened to be on (the big screen in the team room),” LSU coach Les Miles said Saturday afternoon. “He drops back in the pocket, makes a step up and rips the ball. ... Great catch.
“It was exactly what this team needed last night,” Miles said with a grin, “so we decided to throw the ball more today because we saw it that way.”
For a team that’s expected to run the ball a lot more this season because of the loss of Mettenberger and 1,000-yard receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, not to mention the presence of freshman running back Leonard Fournette, the offense let it fly Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
Although he was rather secretive about details, including stats, Miles said there were “40 or 45 passes” thrown with 20 completions, presumably most of them by sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris as their battle for the starting job continues.
That was about as much as Miles was willing to reveal when it came to official passing stats.
He said there was just one turnover, an interception that came on a fourth-down pass he insisted be thrown in the two-minute drill.
When asked who threw the ball, which was intercepted by safety Austin Suits, Miles said, “One of the quarterbacks.”
When pressed for more details, Miles said there were three touchdown passes but declined to say who threw them or who was on the receiving end.
He said freshman wide receiver Trey Quinn, who continues to impress in preseason camp, had “a really nice outing” with four or five catches — and nine players overall had receptions.
Without identifying individuals, Miles said the running backs also had a productive day. He said the leading rusher approached 60 yards and two other backs had 43 and 41 yards, respectively, as four players got 14 carries each.
Miles also noted that Fournette had a long touchdown run on a busted play against the scout squad.
“I think the first offense did a good job,” Miles said. “There were some balls that were dropped, but for the most part, both quarterbacks are improved and doing what we need to have done.”
Miles, however, said he’s not any closer to naming a starting quarterback for the Aug. 30 season opener with Wisconsin in Houston.
With a third and final scrimmage of preseason camp coming Tuesday, Miles said Saturday’s work was productive for the offense, defense and special teams and was punctuated by physical play on a hot, steamy day.
He said while the defense was dominant at times, the winner of the scrimmage was too close to call — especially when the ones squared off with the ones.
“It was really competitive. ... It was difficult to move the ball, and when we did, we had to earn it,” Miles said. “(The defense) made us earn it, but I thought it was really an even go. It was very physical with big defensive lines and offensive lines having at it.”
Miles praised the play of defensive end Danielle Hunter, whom he said had nine tackles with four of them behind the line of scrimmage, as well as middle linebacker D.J. Welter and Kendell Beckwith — who are battling for the starting spot.
“A lot was accomplished today,” Miles said. “We’re not ready to play a game, but we’ll be ready when we get a little bit closer to that (Wisconsin) game.
“Right now, it was improved ... better. It was a very good outing.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate .