Set the tone early.
That’s the motto for most football teams, and LSU’s offensive coaches made certain that was theirs Saturday night in the passing game against Northwestern State.
After the Tigers forced a Demons’ punt on the opening drive, Jarrett Lee huddled up his offense at the LSU 33-yard line.
The call: A deep ball to Rueben Randle.
It was offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa’s way of killing two birds with one stone.
1) Develop a vertical passing game.
2) Get Randle the ball more often.
Check and check.
Lee dropped back and saw the Demons without safety help, so he let it rip.
Randle ran past the cornerback in coverage, up the sideline and reeled in the pass for a 43-yard gain.
“The offensive line protected really well and Rueben got open,” Lee said. “It was good momentum going into the game and it was exactly what we wanted.”
It was the beginning of a brilliant night for Lee, who finished 9-of-10 passing for 133 yards and a touchdown. His only blemish – an incompletion on a flag route to DeAngelo Peterson in the end zone.
“A game like this does wonders,” said Randle when asked about his starting quarterback’s confidence level. “When he steps up in the pocket, he has receivers down the field who will make a play for him. Now he’s not nervous about throwing the ball anywhere.”
The night’s scary moment came on the second drive of the game, when Lee was sacked for an 11-yard loss that left him limping to the sidelines.
After the game, Lee said there would be no questions as to his availability for Thursday night’s road game against Mississippi State.
“(My ankle) just got landed on,” Lee said. “I’m not sure what it is just yet, but I’m feeling fine and walking fine.”
By halftime, Lee’s night was done.
“Really it wasn’t that painful,” he said. “We were just trying to keep it safe. We have a short week, so I’m just trying to be smart.”
If it weren’t Northwestern State, things would have played out differently.
“If we were in any game that we needed to win, Lee could have played in the second half,” Miles said. “It was always the plan for us, should we get the opportunity, to give (Zach) Mettenberger significant snaps to play him, and that is what we did.”
Enter Zach Mettenberger.
In his first snaps in purple-and-gold, Mettenberger went start-to-finish in the second half.
And with 92 yards and a touchdown on 8-of-11 passing, the newcomer’s stat line wasn’t far from the veteran’s.
“He went out there gun-slinging like we expected him to,” Randle said.
In front of the media for his first post-game interview, Mettenberger was all smiles – a telltale sign that there wasn’t a worry on this quarterback’s mind.
“It was fun,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot different than playing in front of 5,000 people in JUCO and high school. I thought the crowd definitely showed up tonight. It was great, and we took care of business.”
Mettenberger started throwing right out of the gate, finding freshman Odell Beckham for consecutive passes of 6 and 3 yards – simple reads that offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa hoped would give his newcomer a chance to take a breath and collect his thoughts.
“Some of those plays were run-pass options,” Mettenberger said. “A little dunk for 10 yards here and there really helped. It got my confidence up really early.”
After a Michael Ford run, Mettenberger struck for his biggest play on the night – a 24-yard pass to Randle that put the Tigers in the red zone.
Following another completion to Beckham, Ford punched it in from 7 yards out.
For Mettenberger, who had jumped from Georgia to Butler County (Kans.) Community College to LSU, emotions were riding high.
“That’s what I had dreamed of as a kid,” he said. “To finally go out there in front of a big crowd and put a drive together and score on my first drive ever was a lot of fun.”
For the sake of comfort, Miles elected to let Mettenberger run with the first-team offensive line in the third quarter.
“It helped out a lot,” Mettenberger said. “There is a reason those guys are first string. They gave me a lot of good protection, and I was able to hit receivers and make plays.”
After a performance like Saturday night, the obvious question becomes when do we see Mettenberger again.
If No. 8 had his way, watch for him against the Bulldogs on Thursday night in Starkville.
“Hopefully I can get some more reps next week and keep it rolling against Mississippi State,” Mettenberger said.
“I think me and Jarrett are two similar quarterbacks, and I think he work well together. Hopefully we can keep it going, and our offensive line working how they do and our defense pitching three-point games, I think we are pretty unbeatable right now.”