It looks like the LSU passing game may be here to stay.
A week after torching Alabama for 296 yards in a heartbreaking, down-to-the-wire loss, junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger stayed hot Saturday in leading ninth-ranked LSU to a 37-17 victory over Mississippi State.
Mettenberger connected on 19 of 30 passes for 273 yards and two scores, enjoying the second-most productive night of his Division I career.
“Things are clicking,” Mettenberger said. “We’re peaking right now, and it’s a good time to start peaking.”
A little earlier, of course, would have been even better.
The Tigers spent the first eight weeks of the season leaning heavily on a multi-pronged rushing attack and a defense that consistently ranked among the nation’s best. The lack of a passing game is a big reason LSU took a 14-6 loss at Florida and had close calls against Auburn, South Carolina and Texas A&M in the season’s first two months.
Receivers dropped passes that hit them in the numbers. The offensive line failed to provide steady pass protection.
Mettenberger struggled with red-zone turnovers.
But the past two weeks have shown precisely why LSU’s coaches spoke glowingly about Mettenberger and his receivers in the preseason.
“It takes some time to get everybody on pace,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think there’s a real chemistry developing there.”
Miles showed how much confidence he now has in Mettenberger when LSU took possession at its own 29-yard line Saturday with only 48 seconds to play in the first half.
Instead of settling for a 13-10 lead at halftime, Miles put the ball in his quarterback’s hands and asked him to lead a scoring drive.
Mettenberger responded, completing three of four passes for 71 yards.
Spencer Ware stretched out in the end zone to complete the quick-strike drive, corralling an over-the-shoulder, 20-yard pass in the end zone with 13 seconds showing.
“I think Zach is playing extremely well,” Mettenberger said. “I think he has nice touch on the ball. I think he knows where he needs to go with the ball and is making quality decisions.”
But it’s clear that Mettenberger, now 10 games into his career as an LSU starter, isn’t the only reason for the passing game’s recent success.
Sophomore receiver Jarvis Landry picked up where he left off in a breakout performance against Alabama with an even better outing Saturday. The erstwhile five-star recruit had a career-high nine catches — eight in the first half — for a career-high 109 yards and a touchdown.
Someone asked Miles afterward what allowed Landry to have a career night.
“I would say that Landry will have more nights like that,” Miles said. “It’s a career night now maybe because it’s early in his career.”
LSU also seems to have found the right combination of offensive linemen to keep Mettenberger free from pressure.
Mississippi State sacked the LSU quarterback twice, but Mettenberger more often had plenty of time to sit back in the pocket and survey the defense.
“With all the hard work we put in all season long, it’s starting to come together,” Mettenberger said. “The receivers are running great routes, the offensive line is protecting very well, and I’m putting the ball where it needs to be.”
Miles believes the best from Mettenberger and the passing game is still yet to come.
“I think Zach is ambitious,” Miles said. “I don’t think how we played in the passing game tonight is enough.”