2011 closed the book on the football nightmare that was the Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee experiment in Baton Rouge, La. Zach Mettenberger, the former Georgia Bulldog quarterback who ran into a little trouble, is taking the reins for the Bayou Bengals and expectations are high. As the quarterback told The Times-Picayune this past weekend:
"It doesn't matter what offense we run, if we hand it off 60 times a game or we throw it 60," he said. "We're going to do what we've got to do to win. Hopefully the coaches have more trust in me to put the ball in my hand and let me throw it around."
Mettenberger said he's excited about the prospect of getting to air it out more than LSU has in the past, but also said he has a role to play.
"I can't play out of myself," he said. "I don't need to go out there and be Superman every play of the game. I just need to go out there and get the ball in the playmakers' hands and be a game manager, but also make plays from time to time."
Those are good things to hear if you're a Tigers fan. While it is all talk until the game gets live in September, the fact that Mettenberger both understands the role of a quarterback in this offense and has the confidence to put the ball up when they let him is a great thing.
Instead of a guy who's out there hoping he doesn't get benched, a la Jarrett Lee, or a guy who doesn't trust himself throwing the ball down field, like Jordan Jefferson, the Tigers have a guy who wants to fill the role in its entirety.
Without a doubt, the addition of Zach Mettenberger makes the Tigers a better ball club in 2012. Consistency at the quarterback position, the ability to confidently stretch the field and the use of weapons like Russell Shepard help raise the ceiling for the folks in Red Stick.
Raising the ceiling is a good thing; the team has a chance to improve upon the offensive production from 2011, a team that was good enough to get to a BCS title game.
However, one thing that will be interesting to watch is how the new, improved Tigers manage their game against their chief competition to get to the title, Alabama. While Zach Mettenberger makes the Tigers a better football team, he also makes the game planning a bit easier for Nick Saban and Kirby Smart.
No more spending practice time talking option assignments. No more playing almost exclusively zone coverage to combat the threat of the running quarterback and keep eyes on a run threat. No more playing basic defenses to avoid the run lanes created through exotic pressures.
Instead, it is a lot more about disguising coverages, getting to the quarterback and stuffing the run, the same game plan the Tide bring with them in just about every ball game. While Mettenberger is a better quarterback than his predecessors, he is now a more complex threat to work around from a game plan standpoint. He is a lot more Tyler Wilson and Ryan Mallett, which is Alabama is capable of defensing.
That means instead of some sprinkled in option plays, a quarterback scramble for a crucial first down or a seam downfield because of a gap in zone coverage; the Bayou Bengals will have to out-grind, out-game plan and flat-out beat the Crimson Tide.
Beating Alabama is do-able. LSU is a football team that has the horses up front on the offensive line to run the ball against Alabama. They have a quarterback who is going to challenge the secondary and some wide receivers that are dangerous with the ball in their hands. The four-headed, possibly five-headed, monster at the tailback position makes the run game reliable and the play-action pass a solid possibility.
Plus, unlike Arkansas, the Bayou Bengals bring a defense to the party when they take on the Tide. While LSU's offense grows, it is not losing its defensive pedigree, and that could be the difference in pushing it over the top, even without a run-threat at quarterback.
The addition of Mettenberger is going to be something to watch. Overall, LSU became a bigger problem for 11 teams on their schedule; what it means for its most important game, Alabama, will be a bit different than the rest of the season.