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LSU's Mettenberger reaches new heights

GAINESVILLE — LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger had a feeling before the season that he and the Tigers were destined for a great year.

The addition of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and the fact the senior was entering his second year as a starter prompted Mettenberger's expectations.

"I'm just more comfortable," he said. "I'm more loose, not as nervous. I learned a lot of tough lessons last year but also a lot of good ones; the ups and downs of the college football season. It's just something I'm more prepared for."

That's more evident than ever in his play right now.

When No. 10 LSU hosts No. 17 Florida on Saturday, the Gators will face a different Mettenberger from the one they saw last season. He leads the SEC in passing efficiency with a 190.1 rating (fourth overall in Division I-A). His season completion percentage of 68.2 is tops in LSU history and his 35 completions of 20 or more yards leads Division I-A. His primary targets — Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham — lead I-A in combined receptions (77) and yards (1,302).

"They have athletic guys out there," Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins said. "They definitely go up and get the ball, no matter if they are covered or not. Mettenberger is going to put it right on them and give them a chance to get it every time, too. We've got our work cut out for us this week, but this is what we look forward to as a secondary."

LSU has topped the 400-yard mark in total offense in all six games this season, and the Tigers have won 35 of their past 36 games when scoring 30 or more points. LSU has scored at least 30 in every game this year, and Mettenberger has been the catalyst behind the offensive success.

"I think Zach is just playing just how we need him to play at home or on the road," LSU coach Les Miles said. "He's the leader. He's in charge of communication, and he's doing it extremely well. My opinion really: He's one of those guys … on the field that just gives you advantages, not only with his arm but with his mind and how he approaches the game."

Mettenberger was 207-of-352 for 2,609 yards and a 128.34 passing efficiency rating last season. But by his own admission, he was inconsistent and struggled in late-game situations.

But under Cameron, and by addressing his weaknesses, Mettenberger has thrived. "I've always been known as a guy who could throw the ball hard, but I want to be known as a great passer," he said.

Through six games, Mettenberger has 1,738 passing yards and 15 touchdowns. He is on pace to set the school record in both categories. He has started 19 consecutive games and is 15-4 as a starter.

The combination of Cameron and Mettenberger has worked out exactly as Miles had hoped.

"I can tell you, I felt like it was just exactly the right pieces or factors to come together," he said. "You have a veteran quarterback that can really throw it. You have a veteran receiving corps that can really run routes and receive the ball. Yeah, I really did (expect dramatic improvement under Cameron). I don't underestimate our offense, nor do I underestimate Cam. I think he's a great coach."

The Gators expect LSU to be much more formidable than the team that lost 14-6 in Gainesville last season, mostly because of the improved Mettenberger, now known to LSU fans as "Air Mett."

"Their quarterback has made great strides," sophomore linebacker Antonio Morrison said. "They're not one-dimensional running the ball. They throw the ball just as much as they run. He's (Mettenberger) throwing that thing, looking like an NFL quarterback."

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

LSU's Mettenberger reaches new heights 10/09/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 9:44pm]
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