LSU Football: How Tigers' Offense Changes with Zach Mettenberger on Sidelines

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LSU Football: How Tigers' Offense Changes with Zach Mettenberger on Sidelines
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

An LSU pro-style offense will broaden its options of attacking defenses with Anthony Jennings replacing an injured Zach Mettenberger in the Tigers' upcoming bowl game.

Of course, efficiency will likely lessen when the true freshman attempts to fill the void of Mettenberger, who completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2013.

The Tigers' senior quarterback injured his knee midway through the fourth quarter of last Friday's game against Arkansas, however. Unfortunately, the injury is as bad as most fans feared.

ESPN's Adam Caplan reported that Mettenberger tore his ACL and suffered an MCL sprain in the contest. Will this prevent LSU from gaining its fourth straight 10-win season?

It's quite likely. The Tigers' offensive dynamic will have a drastic change in whichever bowl announcement awaits LSU this Sunday.

 

Mobility

Starting with mobility, well, at least movement in the pocket is an option now.

When LSU's offensive line protects, Mettenberger is as lethal as any quarterback in the country. When the pocket caves in on LSU's third 3,000-yard passer in school history, a defender will likely supplant Mettenberger if he doesn't alter his throw in a quick manner. Not Jennings.

Jennings is an athletic, Nick Marshall-type athlete. He might not be Johnny Manziel in the pocket (who is?), but his athleticism will allow him to extend plays with his feet, which is one thing he'll be able to do better than Mettenberger.

That's only the surface when it comes to the offense's increased mobility though.

Running the spread option, which should be crisp with a month to fully prepare with Cam Cameron, Jeremy Hill and other running backs will benefit from defensive ends accounting for Jennings' legs. In other words, that's one less man to block and one less man to avoid.

Considering Jennings' abilities, containment in the pocket will be a focal point of preparation for the Tigers' bowl opponent. It's safe to say, that area on defense would have been an after-thought with Mettenberger still behind the center.

So see, there are some positive with Jennings taking over. However, there are also the obvious negatives...

 

Less Balance

Third down conversions will be daunting, and that's something foreign to the 2013 LSU squad.

Throw that third down percentage out of the window. The Tigers lead the nation with a 59 percent third-down completion rate, which is a credit to Mettenberger's strong arm, protection upfront and separation caused by the wide receivers.

Obviously, the most important piece to that puzzle will be missing if Mettenberger is sidelined.

Take a gander at these stats. Think Mettenberger's arm hasn't had a huge impact on the Tigers' offense?

LSU Tigers' Run/Pass Attempts in Past Four Seasons
Season Passing Plays Called Rushing Plays Called
2010 36% 64%
2011 32% 68%
2012 40% 60%
2013 40% 60%

CFBstats.com

Most of you are like, "so that's what balance looks like on the offensive side of the football." Eh, it's about as close to balanced as a Les Miles' LSU team will ever be.

So then, how unbalanced will this offense look with a mobile quarterback providing rushes to go along with Hill, Terrence Magee, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard all touching the football?

Where will Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham fit in to play?

 

Ability to Stretch the Field Heightens

Landry and Beckham might very well benefit from Mettenberger's absence.

Whaaaa? Hear this one out.

Mettenberger has a stronger arm and is more accurate than Jennings, so how can the Tigers' chances of hitting the deep ball strengthen in his absence?

For reasons stated above, the Tigers' bowl opponent will likely stack the box. Jennings, while capable of throwing over the top of defenders (see the end of the Arkansas game), is a mobile quarterback that can maximize the Tigers' rushing game by adding another element to it (spread option). Whomever the Tigers play, they will likely focus on defending the Tigers' rush attack, rather than the passing game. 

It was the opposite all year for LSU. For instance, look at the respect Arkansas showed LSU's passing game last Friday.

YouTube

Against LSU's Power-I, Arkansas defended with a 4-3 defensive set that saw Arkansas' cornerbacks give LSU's wide receivers a 10-yard cushion.

YouTube

Even with a one-back set, the Hogs continued to play deep coverage. Notice how both safeties are playing 13 yards deep. That's what Mettenberger brings to the table, as he's gained respect around the league for his deep ball accuracy.

Without him, opponents will be more willing to bring the safety up for run support. That's where a play-action pass to Beckham or Landry comes into play.

Without Mettenberger, windows will open. Opportunities will emerge due to a lack of respect for Jennings' arm. Rightfully so. It's up to Jennings to close the gap, making the Tigers' opponent pay for defending the run.

LSU won't be as explosive, especially on third down, but the Tigers will still be hard to defend with Jennings leading a physical running attack with a few new wrinkles. Can the freshman pull off another miracle?

 

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