Simply put, LSU needs more production from its tight ends.
The Tigers tight ends have combined for 28 catches and zero touchdowns over the past two seasons. For comparison's sake, Arkansas' Hunter Henry, Mississippi State's Malcolm Johnson and Georgia's Arthur Lynch all caught at least 28 passes and two touchdowns last season alone.
Ironically, the Tigers had one of their best years offensively under Les Miles in 2013. Miles had a 3,000-yard passer in Zach Mettenberger, a 1,000-yard rusher in Jeremy Hill and two 1,000-yard receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
But if there was a criticism of the offense, it would be the lack of other options. Outside of Hill, Landry and Beckham Jr., LSU had few players that threatened its opponents. This, in turn, would sometimes make them easy to defend.
LSU did not have a single tight end whom defenses would respect in the passing game. And the film shows it.
LSU vs. Georgia
LSU lost in a 44-41 shootout against Georgia in an SEC instant classic. The passing offense, in particular Mettenberger, should be the last to blame for the heartbreaking defeat. The Tigers defense surrendered the lead late in the fourth quarter. Mettenberger and the offense needed a field goal to tie the game.
On the first play of the drive, the LSU offensive line made a horrendous error and gave up a sack. The Tigers were able to get a first down via a Beckham Jr. reception on the next play, but LSU's final timeout was burned after the sack, and Mettenberger took a vicious shot.
As the drive went on, the Bulldogs were able to clamp down tighter on Beckham Jr. and Landry. A quarterback as talented as Mettenberger should know other options will open up.
LSU faced a 3rd-and-10, needing about 35 more yards to be in field-goal range.
The Tigers line up three receivers, with their two best, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry (JL), to the left of the formation. Tight end Travis Dickson (TD) lines up on the left side of the offensive line.
Off the snap, four of the five eligible receivers all run deep routes with the last at running back serving as the personal protector for Mettenberger.
Dickson begins to run his route with a linebacker playing man coverage against him. For every play on the drive up to this point, he'd only been covered by a linebacker.
Mettenberger has a good, but not great, pocket to throw. The Bulldogs bring a blitz that LSU deciphers quickly and blocks well. He has more time to survey the field and make the decision.
Mettenberger decides to attempt a back-shoulder throw to Landry (JL) in double coverage—which is not a bad option to a receiver of Landry's caliber. It is an extremely difficult throw to make under immense pressure.
Dickson (TD) is in man coverage in open space against a linebacker and would have been a better option.
A view from behind Mettenberger shows Dickson was able to create some separation, yet Mettenberger decides to go with his more trustworthy option in Landry.
But this slide shows partially why Mettenberger did not throw the ball to Dickson. Even though the ball is already thrown, the linebacker (LB) was able to shrink the gap quickly between himself and Dickson quickly.
LSU's No. 1 receiving option at tight end needs to create more separation in man-to-man coverage.
LSU vs. Alabama
LSU was down 31-17 to the Alabama Crimson Tide with just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Tigers desperately needed to score to get back within one possession.
LSU lines up in a near identical formation as the previously shown play against Georgia, except Mettenberger is under center on this one.
After the snap, LSU releases four receivers up the field and keeps Jeremy Hill in the backfield as a personal protector. The Crimson Tide only rush four and all linebackers clearly sink back into coverage. This means Mettenberger should trust his six-on-four protection to give him time to survey the field.
Alabama is clearly in Cover 2 as LSU runs a play with three routes on the left of the formation. This essentially guarantees at least one receiver running his route to have a one-on-one matchup. Landry (JL) releases upfield as Dickson (TD) runs an out route against a linebacker in the middle of the field.
Dickson then releases vertically up the field on an "out-and-up" route, leaving the linebacker (LB) defending him flat-footed. Landry continues to work up field, drawing the safety to help over the top. Beckham Jr. runs a dig route underneath.
Dickson blows by the linebacker after running an immaculate route, as Landry gets smothered in double coverage. All Mettenberger has to do is see the safety has worked his way over to Landry, then dart the ball to Dickson for the easy touchdown.
Mettenberger has all day to throw the football, as Alabama only rushed four players.
Instead, Mettenberger forces a ball to Landry that should have intercepted. Dickson stands wide open, knowing LSU missed a golden opportunity. The Tigers would not score again, as LSU went down to Alabama, 38-17.
What about 2014?
The above tape showed Mettenberger's lack of faith in players not named Landry or Beckham Jr. Dickson is not a bad player by any stretch of the imagination, but he should not be a No. 1 option at tight end.
Nevertheless, Mettenberger should have delivered the ball to Dickson on both of the above plays. Yet his deep faith in Landry—and his lack thereof to the tight ends—told him to throw the ball to him no matter the coverage.
LSU fans should not worry, though, for next season, as there is hope for the future.
Dickson returns for his senior season, as do veterans Dillon Gordon and Logan Stokes. But the breakout star will be DeSean Smith. The sophomore showed flashes of brilliance in the spring game with three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown.
The Tigers are high on incoming freshman Jacory Washington. Washington is a great fit in offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's offense and can stretch the field with his speed.
LSU will also be developing a young quarterback next season. Whether it be Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings who wins the job, Cameron will call simple plays for tight ends to help them get in a rhythm.
When great football teams face off against each other, the more complete team usually wins.
Georgia and Alabama defeated the Tigers last season. The talent gap between the Tigers and those two defeats were not wide, but at tight end there was a massive discrepancy.
Alabama's No. 1 option at tight end, O.J. Howard, bursted through in the first half for a 52-yard touchdown. Howard is a rare breed, so nobody is asking the Tigers tight ends to be like him. But because Mettenberger had little cohesiveness with his tight end, he missed an easy pitch-and-catch touchdown to Dickson.
This essentially created a plus-14 advantage for the Crimson Tide, which is massive in a rivalry game that is annually so close. Nick Saban's defense could have been exploited by the tight end in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, as well.
To be fair, LSU's lack of receptions at tight end does not mean they have been bad. The Tigers have had phenomenal blockers on the edge in Gordon and Stokes, both of whom play vital roles in the running game.
But for LSU's passing game to be successful in 2014, the Tigers need to have a viable threat through the air at tight end.