Passing game busting out

BATON ROUGE, La. -- With 48 seconds left in the first half of Saturday's 37-17 win over Mississippi State, LSU had the ball at its own 29-yard line, a spot where one usually expects the ground-and-pound Tigers to sit on the ball to take a three-point lead to halftime.

Instead, quarterback Zach Mettenberger came out slinging darts: 15 yards to Jarvis Landry, then 36 yards up the right sideline to James Wright. After an incompletion, he found Spencer Ware circling out of the backfield down the right side and completed a 20-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left in the half.

It was four plays and 71 yards of efficient two-minute offense the likes of which LSU hasn't seen in years.

"We've worked on it, worked on it, worked on it," said LSU coach Les Miles of the two-minute drill. "And I think we're getting better."

One could say that about LSU's passing game as a whole. The Tigers, drastically improved in every facet of its passing game, put up big numbers for the second game in a row. Mettenberger completed 19 of 30 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns and the Tigers ended up with more than twice as many yards passing as rushing (119).

This came a week after Mettenberger's breakout game, a 24-for-35, 298-yard night against Alabama. In neither game did the junior quarterback throw an interception.

"We're clicking," Mettenberger said. "We're peaking now."

It's almost a different offense, one that gives responsibility to the passing game in a way LSU hasn't seen since before the Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson years. And certainly not like anything LSU (8-2) saw in its first eight games this season

Remember the Tigers beating Texas A&M with just 97 passing yards from Mettenberger? How about the 11-of-25, 158-yard day in an anemic 14-6 loss to Florida? Even after the Alabama game, Mettenberger was ninth in the SEC in passing at just 190.8 yards per game.

It's might be hard to believe the group that was so deadly through the air Saturday is the same cast of characters that produced those results early. Almost seems like a different offense, doesn't it?

"Yeah," said Landry, LSU's leading receiver who had his best game -- nine catches, 109 yards and his second touchdown in as many weeks -- Saturday. "We're going to continue to be a balanced team. But with the passing game being so much more efficient in the past two games, it might seem like we overshot it in the run. But that's not it at all."

The problem was that the passing game wasn't ready to hold up its end of the deal yet -- not until after the bye week leading up to the breakout Alabama performance.

A first-year starter, Mettenberger throws to a relatively young group of receivers. Landry and Odell Beckham, the Tigers' two leading receivers, are sophomores. The injury-plagued offensive line had to adjust to starting an all-freshman right side.

In the last two weeks, LSU has finally had nights where the pass protection, the passes from Mettenberger and the routes and catches by the receivers have all come together in harmony. It's a result that one should not take for granted at a level of football that, for all of its big money and big crowds, is still a developmental level.

"It takes some time to get everyone on page and on pace," Miles said. "I think Zach has that. I think he knows where he wants to go with the ball. He had some nice touch on the ball. The way he uncorks it makes all the throws.

"I think our receivers are now in a spot where there is real chemistry developing there. It will continue."

That will change how LSU is perceived going forward.

Not only do the Tigers have the passing game to continue to put up big numbers to close out the season -- especially against teams such as Ole Miss and Arkansas that are susceptible against the pass -- but they return most of the key players next season as well

With Mettenberger, all the receivers except Russell Shepard, and starters at four offensive line positions all back, the Tigers will go into next season seen as a team, like Alabama this season, that's capable of beating teams both in the air and on the ground.

Maybe it's time to forget the ground-and-pound LSU stereotype. LSU is a team that can throw it. Get used to that idea.

"When we do well in the passing game, coach is going to call those plays that are maybe a little more high risk, high reward play" Mettenberger said. "As long as we minimize mistakes, we should keep cruising like this."