LSU Football: 3 Things Zach Mettenberger Needs to Do to Be a Heisman Contender
If Zach Mettenberger continues to take what defenses give him, he'll be kissing a Heisman handed to him in December.
Heisman talk is a bit premature, right? After all, the LSU Tigers have only played two games. Well, through those games, the senior quarterback showed that with his improved mechanics and weapons on the outside, he can score a lot of points for the Tigers.
After playing against an impressive secondary in TCU and a secondary that Jordan Jefferson could have likely torched in UAB, Mettenberger recorded 533 total passing yards and six touchdowns, leading his team to an average of 46.5 points per game.
The stats are impressive, but is Mettenberger really playing like a championship-caliber, and dare I say Heisman-contending, quarterback? After studying film, I firmly believe he's playing the best football in the SEC at the position.
Let's take a look at what makes him the best pure passer in the league.
Hand him the... Heisman?
Under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Mettenberger and this LSU passing offense runs a fluid passing attack that is tremendously efficient.
By creating favorable matchups on the outside with his prime wide receivers and insuring a possible out for Mettenberger with short routes by tight ends and running backs, Cameron made LSU's passing offense dangerous.
However, it wouldn't be considered as such without Mettenberger's improved accuracy and gained comfort level in the line of fire.
First, let's look at Mettenberger's ever-growing pocket awareness. On the first drive of the TCU game, LSU passed on its first third down attempt of the game. The Tigers converted 13-of-19 third-down conversions in the game, which is a big deal considering LSU was successful 40 percent of the time last year.
Here, the Tigers showed its first wrinkle in the passing game, sporting a trips formation to the right with the tight end Dillon Gordon on the line.
Gordon released on a 9-route (deep route), as Travin Dural and Jarvis Landry ran the "dig" route. TCU defended the routes with a Cover 2 zone.
TCU's secondary bracketed Landry (two-on-one coverage) to the far right, which left Dural by himself with the Horned Frogs linebackers. Advantage Dural.
Metteberger had to show patience in the pocket, awaiting Dural to find an open zone in the defense. Mettenberger hung in the pocket as long as he could and delivered a strike to Dural for the first down.
The play showcased Mettenberger's improved awareness and gifted arm strength.
Now, onto another improved area of Mettenberger's game—his deep ball accuracy. Time and time again last season, Mettenberger overthrew wide receivers streaking down the sidelines. This season has been a different story.
Take for example Mettenberger's 44-yard completion to Odell Beckham in the first half of the TCU game. Beckham and Landry ran 8-routes (post routes) to the strong side of the field. The Horned Frogs had eight men in the box, so Mettenberger foresaw one of his receivers having a one-on-one matchup down the field.
Landry faced a bracket cover once again, which left the speedy, athletic Beckham in single coverage.
Mettenberger realized this, anticipated separation on Beckham's break and completed the long pass to the nation's leading all-purpose yards performer.
Though Mettenberger has been sharp in his first two outings of the season, he hasn't been perfect. If he wants to become the second LSU player to win the Heisman, this is what he must improve upon.
Continue to Take What "D" Offers
Against UAB, Mettenberger completed passes to eight different targets. You typically find that type of distribution more down the Bayou in New Orleans with Drew Brees and company.
Mettenberger found J.C. Copeland, Connor Neighbors, Dural, Gordon, DeSean Smith, Terrence Magee, Landry and Beckham against the Blazers, and it was all mostly due to—say it with me—taking what the defense gave him.
He found Smith and Gordon on mismatches, dumped balls off to an unattended to Copeland, Neighbors and Magee in the flat, and found Beckham, Landry and Dural open in the secondary.
Mettenberger did miss one of those "gimmies" early into the contest though, and the Tigers were forced to punt as a result.
On the opening drive, the Tigers faced a third down, and rather than hitting a wide open Magee underneath the coverage, Mettenberger went all Johnny Football, deciding to scramble for the first down. We could've all predicted how that one was going to turn out.
Mettenberger is a superstar in the system. As long as he continues to do what Cameron is instructing and takes advantages of the matchups presented to him, he will boast strong numbers.
Anticipate the Deep Ball a Little Better
Chicks dig the long ball.
It's a proven fact, friends, and knowing Zach Mettenberger's personality, it's probably why he became a quarterback in the first place.
Look, he has the strongest arm in the SEC, and his accuracy has improved greatly in just one year's time. However, holding onto the ball one second too long could be the difference between a touchdown and an interception.
In an incomplete pass in the 2013 Cowboy Classic, Beckham had Jason Verrett dead to rights, and if Metteneberger would have pulled the trigger two seconds earlier, it would have likely been a long scoring play for the Tigers.
With Cameron and Les Miles giving the green light, the Tigers have capitalized on taking shots down the field this year, unlike last season. With LSU's Beckham and Landry, two of the top four receivers in the SEC in receiving yards right now, Mettenberger must always utilize his weapons. Making more timely deep passes will improve the Tigers down the road.
Win a Few Big Games
So I'm listening to the Paul Finebaum Show (guilty pleasure I'm sorry) the other day, and I hear a few fans give credit to Mettenberger.
One caller said that he was the most NFL-ready quarterback in the conference right now, but then Finebaum answered him with, "well, I need to see him win a big game."
Immediately I thought, "that's silly." Last season, the Tigers beat Texas A&M and South Carolina, but then I remembered that Mettenberger completed 43 percent of his passes, threw for 245 yards and had one touchdown and one interception in the games combined.
Well gosh Finebaum, you might have a point. Mettenberger had great outings against elite defenses such as Alabama last year and TCU this season, but he's going to have to win a few big SEC games with his arm for the Tigers before we start handing him awards.
The Heisman is a stat trophy, but it's also a trophy held by winners. A 2013 national championship wouldn't hurt Mettenberger's chances of becoming LSU's second Heisman.
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