BATON ROUGE -- LSU jumped out to a 14-point lead in the second quarter Saturday when Washington defensive back Shaq Thompson tried to regain momentum for the Huskies.
Zach Mettenberger, LSU's strong-armed junior quarterback, threw a short out-route to wide receiver Jarvis Landry that Thompson decided to try to undercut. If he calculated right, he was figuring on a pick-6 that would get UW right back into the game.
Only he miscalculated.
Mettenberger had a little more -- heck, a lot more -- velocity on the ball than Thompson anticipated and the pass got to Landry in great shape as Thompson could only watch it whiz by.
Thompson was like a power hitter swinging for the fences, only to get overmatched by high heat. Mettenberger's harder throws come with that sound, like a fastball ripping towards the mitt.
"I'm really focused in on blocking the defensive end, but sometimes when [Mettenberger throws] that ball and you just hear the ball zing by your head and you say, 'Oh, there it goes,' "offensive tackle Josh Dworaczyk said. "And those great passes, he puts on the money."
In his second game as LSU's new starting quarterback, Mettenberger got to show off his NFL-caliber arm, completing 12-of-18 passes for 195 yards in a 41-3 win over Washington. The volume of passes weren't great because LSU dominated the game and went exclusively to the run after it was out of hand (52 rushes, versus just 19 passes).
But unlike the 41-14 season-opening win over North Texas, however, the passes he did throw had a higher degree of difficulty. Against the Mean Green, Metttenberger only looked downfield on 11 of 28 pass attempts. A couple never got off -- he was sacked twice -- and a couple more wound up being dumped off to the short route. Otherwise, the Tigers stayed with short, safe passes in his 19-for-26 day.
For LSU fans frustrated by the Tigers' inability to throw downfield in recent seasons, the opener did not satisfy.
The second game should. With Washington challenging LSU's receivers more, Mettenberger threw more aggressive, downfield passes.
"We were taking what they were giving us," said Mettenberger, sporting an ever-growing blonde mustache he threatened to keep growing until the Tigers lost a game. "That's all it was."
And Mettenberger delivered. Even on a blustery day, Mettenberger had the arm to throw into the wind with authority, even nearing overthrows on a couple of passes.
"You look at the quarterback play, he was on the money," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We would be well over 200 yards passing, which is kind of a landmark for us, if you take the number of drops out of the equation."
If there is one complaint about the Tigers performance, that was it. Odell Beckham, Jr. dropped three passes on what will be a night for him to forget (he also fumbled on the opening kickoff, allowing UW to kick a field goal for its only points). Russell Shepard also dropped a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone. There was a fifth drop, by Landry, for what might have been another touchdown, but that came on an under-thrown halfback pass from Spencer Ware.
Add it all up and Mettenberger could easily have been 16-for-18 with two touchdowns and well over 250 yards.
"I was definitely more comfortable this week and getting used to playing the game again," Mettenberger said. "We still made some mistakes out there that we have to iron out. We just have to get better for next week. If we can keep improving every game, we'll be a pretty good football team."
One with a home run threat.
With his team already leading 27-3, Mettenberger found Kadron Boone open down the right sideline. He lofted it lightly, the north wind from an uncharacteristic Louisiana September cool front behind him. He took a lot off -- Boone had to slow down for it -- but was still able to easily cradle it in for a 32-yard touchdown.
For LSU fans looking for the missing piece, that was it. The Tigers can throw it downfield this season.
UW will vouch.