Film Study: LSU Quarterback Zach Mettenberger's Brilliant Game Against TCU

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Film Study: LSU Quarterback Zach Mettenberger's Brilliant Game Against TCU
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Mettenberger celebrates

The LSU passing attack was "Mett-nificent" in LSU’s 37-27 victory over TCU.

LSU quarterback Mettenberger was 16-of-32 for 251 yards and one touchdown. Yet the stats do not do him justice. He controlled the game, as TCU defensive backs were at the mercy of his pinpoint accuracy. His ability to throw set up the LSU running game.

Mettenberger threw no interceptions, and a few of his throws were dropped. He was Tom Brady-esque, as he threw the football where only his receiver could catch it.

TCU head coach Gary Patterson created a brilliant game plan. He instructed his defensive backs and linebackers to play downhill, crashing the line of scrimmage on every running play. Patterson wanted LSU to win the game through the air. He felt his defensive backs could cover the Tigers well enough to win the game.

TCU’s defensive backs lived up to their high billing. Though the Horned Frogs weren’t their sharpest, they batted down plenty of passes and were often stride for stride with LSU’s receivers. 

Unfortunately for TCU, Mettenberger was just too good.

The best throws Mettenberger made were in the fourth quarter. His touchdown throw was placed on Jarvis Landry’s back hip, as defensive back Sam Carter read the slant route to perfection. The touchdown essentially sealed the victory for LSU as it made the score a two-possession game.

Mettenberger’s final throw summed up his spectacular evening. It was 3rd-and-5, and cornerback Kevin White blanketed Odell Beckham Jr. The ball was placed superbly to Beckham Jr.’s back shoulder for a 25-yard first down.

The first quarter was a clinic as well. Mettenberger’s first throw, and best throw, of the game set the tone for the LSU offense. And here is the tape to prove it.

Notice pre-snap, LSU has trips right in a “bunch” formation. TCU looks as if it's running simple Cover 2. What LSU is trying to do by putting so many receivers in a small amount of space is to cause confusion for the Horned Frogs defensive backs.

Off the snap, the TCU defensive backfield easily reads the path of the LSU receivers, by looking at Mettenberger’s eyes, with his job being to read the play-side “nickelback” and safety of TCU to see where to deliver the football.

The Horned Frogs defensive line ran a “twist-stunt” to free up a pass-rusher on the left side of the screen. A “twist” is when a defensive tackle circles around to the outside, while the defensive end goes inside, in hopes of one of them goes unblocked.

TCU succeeds with their “twist,” as defensive tackle Davion Pearson finds himself unblocked. All LSU receivers are blanketed, as Mettenberger sees Landry locked up, as seen to the bottom right of the screen. This looks to be a clear sack and early three-and-out for the TCU defense.

Despite nobody being open, Mettenberger fires a ball into heavy traffic off his back foot while getting smoked by Pearson. The ball looks as if it will be picked off easily by the defensive end or batted down.

But the ball placement from Mettenberger is so perfect; it was only be thrown where receiver Travin Dural can catch it. LSU had no open receivers, but Mettenberger, while getting crushed, trusted his arm strength and placed the football in between two defenders to Dural for the first down.

Keep in mind, this was the first throw of the game, and the season, for a quarterback who has not been well-received in Baton Rouge.

This Mettenberger fireball took guts and gave him the necessary confidence that any throw in this game could, and potentially would, be makeable. If this ball had been intercepted, it is highly unlikely Mettenberger would have played as well as he did for the rest of the game.

After another first down toss two plays later, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called a play-action pass to the right on first down. Mettenberger’s personal protectors on the play, Dillon Gordon and J.C. Copeland, did a poor job. Yet despite getting hit again, the senior delivered a strike to Landry on the right sideline for 16 yards.

The Tigers did an excellent job in pass protection. They only allowed two sacks, both on defensive-back blitzes from the outside, which are rarely the fault of the offensive line. The line created a clean pocket for Mettenberger to throw for most of the night, led by SEC offensive lineman of the week La'el Collins. 

To nitpick, Mettenberger delivered only a few bad throws. A couple of passes sailed on him. He had two deep, post-route throws to Beckham Jr., one of which was completed. The other was dropped. But both passes were slightly underthrown. If thrown farther, Beckham Jr. would catch the ball in stride for easy scores.

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He does need help from other receivers and tight ends going forward. The tight ends caught zero passes. Outside of Landry and Beckham Jr., the LSU receivers caught two passes for 21 yards.

Landry is also LSU’s only receiver who can catch the ball in heavy traffic. Beckham Jr. dropped a couple of passes, as did other receivers, that were catchable. The receivers also need to be more consistent in creating space for Mettenberger to deliver the football.

The running game needs improvement as well. While the 197 yards on 48 attempts looks impressive, a chunk of the production came on a 52-yard touchdown run by Terrance Magee. It was a solid run, but it was sprung by a bad angle taken by the safety. If that long run is taken out, LSU only averaged 3.1 yards per carry. 

LSU fans have much to look forward to with Mettenberger. He has now thrown for at least 200 yards in five of his last six games. Cameron looked in tune with Mettenberger as his new offensive coordinator. Next week, the Tigers plays UAB, who allowed Troy quarterback Corey Robinson to throw for a NCAA record 30-32 passes last week.

All of the preseason hype went to Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray—and rightfully so. But Mettenberger made a strong case to be considered a part of the SEC signal-caller elite after a game for the ages.

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