How Les Miles Can Solve LSU's Passing-Game Issues Before the Start of the Season

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How Les Miles Can Solve LSU's Passing-Game Issues Before the Start of the Season
USA TODAY Sports
LSU quarterbacks Anthony Jennings (left) and Brandon Harris (right) warm up before the LSU spring game.

LSU head coach Les Miles has a quarterback problem.

Miles must select between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris to be the starting quarterback. The race is so close between the two that Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron are in no rush to name the starter.

No matter who ends up winning the job, LSU must find ways to maintain the passing attack as a serious threat.

LSU threw for over 3,000 yards for the first time since 2007 last season, ranking 45th in the country in passing yards per game. The numbers could have been higher, but Cameron's balanced, pro-style offense kept passing yards per game slightly over 250.

USA TODAY Sports
Former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger's rocket arm was a spectacle. Receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry were human highlight reels.

Unfortunately for Miles, the talented trio is gone. The Tigers will basically start from scratch at both positions.

Harris and Jennings showed flashes of brilliance in the spring game, but both lacked the polish of an experienced passer.

Harris was the better of the two quarterbacks. While he tallied four combined touchdowns, he was also an erratic 11-for-28. Jennings threw two interceptions returned for scores.

Nobody is expecting LSU to dominate through the air like last season, especially with the lack of experience returning at wide receiver. However, there will be times when the Tigers' young quarterbacks will need to make basic throws on early downs and tough throws in key situations.

Miles and Cameron will meticulously bring along the passing game as the season goes along. Here are a few ways they will go about doing it.

 

Running the Football

Miles has no issue with running the pigskin until his opponent wears out. Smashmouth football has been his staple in Baton Rouge.

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LSU running back Terrence Magee

The Tigers have no choice but to run the ball effectively. When LSU struggled to run the ball against TCU and Georgia last season, Mettenberger was still able to consistently complete difficult throws with precise accuracy.

Jennings and Harris do not have that skill set yet.

Feed Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard and incoming freshman sensation Leonard Fournette the ball and they will gain positive yardage. Miles knows this, so expect the trio to total 35 total carries in the season opener against Wisconsin.

Cameron must find ways to loosen up the defense with the run, whether it be basic, between-the-tackles carries or quarterback zone-reads.

Production in the running game loosens up the defense, which then makes the passing game easier.

 

Finding the Tight Ends

Les Miles said during spring hthat e wants to utilize tight ends more in the offense. With the way DeSean Smith performed in the spring game, that looks like an attainable goal.

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LSU tight end DeSean Smith

"I think I can be a big-time threat," said Smith. "I can make those big-time plays to help our team win."

LSU's tight ends have combined for a paltry 28 catches and zero touchdowns over the past two seasons. That production is unacceptable.

LSU will utilize the play-action pass with a tight end running simple routes next season, which will certainly help out a young quarterback. Tight ends are bigger targets, which helps mitigate throwing inaccuracies.

If players like Smith, Dillon Gordon and Travis Dickson step up as pass-catchers, it will make the growing process much smoother for Harris or Jennings.

 

Chucking It Deep

Safeties are some of the best athletes in college football. Three of the five selected in the first round of the NFL draft in the past two seasons were from the SEC.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Former LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards last season.

The key to nullifying great safety play is to keep them guessing, and the best way to do that is throwing it deep.

Last season, defensive backs facing LSU were kept honest by the mere threat of Beckham Jr. and Landry. This forced safeties to play on their heels, rendering them less effective in defending underneath passes and helping in the running game.

Jennings and Harris both throw a beautiful deep ball. Jennings' 49-yard bomb to Travin Dural won the game for the Tigers against Arkansas. Harris' high school tape showed amazing accuracy.

ESPN's Tom Luginbill said his arm is one of the best he has ever seen.

LSU will need to find a new deep option at receiver next season. Even if that is not found immediately and passes fall incomplete, Cameron must not be afraid to let it rip a few times to keep defenses honest.

 

Conclusion

The LSU passing game will struggle next season. Every young quarterback experiences growing pains early in their career. Following Mettenberger's masterful 2013 season is no easy task.

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However, replacing Beckham Jr. and Landry could be a more arduous process than Mettenberger.

Travin Dural is the leading returnee at wide receiver with only seven catches. Dural's 130 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game looked fantastic, but the question remains who will step up alongside him.

There are plenty of positives for LSU looking forward, though.

LSU's receivers, as a whole, certainly progressed toward the end of spring. Also, incoming freshmen Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre have the talent to make plays right away.

The Tigers return four of five starters on the offensive line. Pass protection was shaky last seasonespecially on the road—but new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has been brought in to fix such issues. Any quarterback that has time to throw the football can eviscerate a defense.

The LSU offense will look different next season. The aerial attack might not be as pretty, but expect Miles and Cameron to find ways to make it be effective.

 

Stats, rankings and information provided by LSU Sports Information, 247Sports.com and cfbstats.com. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow Carter Bryant on Twitter @CarterthePower.  

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