In the second quarter of the LSU spring game Saturday, there was a glimpse of strong-armed promise that says a new, more open era of Tigers offense has arrived.
Zach Mettenberger, the Tigers' new starting quarterback, came back from a sluggish first quarter with a solid second quarter when he threw for two touchdowns and 172 of his 272 yards in White's 24-17 win over Purple in front of a crowd estimated at 33,000 at Tiger Stadium.
Playing with starters against mostly reserves on the Purple team, Mettenberger completed 14 of 25 passes, 7 of 10 in the second quarter, with the two touchdowns and two interceptions. But more than LSU ever did with Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson, the starters for the last four years, Mettenberger was allowed to stretch the field with an array of deep passes.
Perhaps restrained by a lack of faith in the passing game, LSU was run-heavy in recent years, especially in the frustrating 21-0 BCS championship game loss to Alabama Jan. 9. For the first time since the departure of Matt Flynn, who was in attendance Saturday, that might change as the passing game looked positively aggressive.
Mettenberger completed four passes that covered 32 yards or more, including a 49-yard touchdown to sophomore Odell Beckham who also hauled in a 53-yard bomb, both burning freshman Jalen Collins. His snaps were limited as a second half with a running clock zipped the game to completion.
"We're definitely going to be aggressive this coming season," Mettenberger said. "But we're going to do whatever we can to win ball games."
Does that include throwing the deep ball as much as the Tigers did Saturday, when at times it bordered on a throw-caution-to-the-wind approach?
"You'll have to ask Coach (Les) Miles," Mettenberger said.
And here's what Miles had to say:
"We'll challenge anybody that plays a single (safety) high coverage against us," Miles promised. "If they play double high, frankly we'll have an opportunity to run the football.
"So pick their poison."
An LSU defense coached by John Chavis will more than likely be willing to play the kind of man-to-man defense against wide receivers that would encourage an offense to challenge corners. That was certainly the case in the spring game and Mettenberger and the offense went right after it, throwing deep with on the White team's second and third plays.
Both were incomplete, but they set the tone for what was to come.
To be fair, there were certainly moments of concern for the passing game. Later in the first quarter, Mettenberger was picked off in the end zone by Ronald Martin.
"He really tried to force the ball that he really didn't need to throw," Miles said.
Late in the game, a catchable pass deflected off the hands of tight end Tyler Edwards to linebacker Lamar Louis, who returned it 74 yards for a touchdown that pulled Purple within 24-17.
But he often connected, too. The deep balls to Beckham were things of beauty down the right sideline as Beckham, who finished with 115 yards on three receptions, beat Collins, a redshirt freshman who is a likely candidate to see significant playing time in nickel and dime packages in the fall.
"You have to love that as a receiver," Beckham said. "That's what you play for. You love coming out and catching deep balls and today was a good day."
Mettenberger's best throw may have been his 19-yard touchdown pass to senior Russell Shepard, a ball that was perfectly fired into a tight window in the left corner of the end zone.
"I think improvement needs to take place in the passing game and that is something that we did today," Miles said. "I think balance has always been what we want to get done."
White also scored on a pick six, a 55-yard interception and return by free safety Eric Reid against second-team quarterback Stephen Rivers. Rivers, embattled against the first team defense much of the day, completed 6 of 17 passes for 75 yards.
"Considering who he was playing against, he did pretty good," Miles said.
But the crowd was there to see Mettenberger Saturday and, particularly in the second quarter, he did a lot to whet appetites.
"It's just the spring game," Mettenberger said. "It's more for the fans to get excited.
"We're going to make our statement during the season."