Saturday, September 8, 2012
By Gary Laney GeauxTigerNation
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Remember that crippling loss of LSU's All-America candidate at left tackle for the season? Remember when the Tigers kicked their Heisman Trophy finalist off the team, making them young and vulnerable in the secondary?
Zach Mettenberger and LSU are thriving despite plenty of obstacles.
After the third-ranked Tigers completely one-sided 41-3 drubbing of Washington at Tiger Stadium, those pieces of bad news seem so long ago after the resilient Tigers looked as strong as ever.
Like last season, when LSU shrugged off the suspension and arrest of its starting quarterback, the news that its offensive coordinator had Parkinson's disease, and a plethora of smaller suspensions to put together a 13-1 season and an appearance in the BCS national championship game, bad news doesn't seem to bother this LSU team.
"A lot of that is recruiting," said defensive coordinator John Chavis after his defense held a high-powered Huskies offense to 183 yards. "They've been recruiting well at LSU since long before I came here. You can develop players, but it's a lot easier to develop the right ones that you know are good enough to play at this level."
On Saturday, it looked like LSU's supply of players was never-ending.
After left tackle Chris Faulk, a projected first round NFL draft pick by many, went down for the season with a knee injury at practice on Wednesday, the Tigers scored their first of five touchdowns right between left guard La'el Collins and Faulk's replacement, Josh Dworaczyk, a sixth-year senior who was solid in his first start at a new position.
Dworaczyk was the fill-in, but hardly a reach. A two-year starter at left guard, Dworaczyk came back to the Tigers this season in a reserve role after missing all of 2011 with a knee injury.
He could not reclaim his left guard spot because of the development of Collins, a highly regarded sophomore. While he was hurt, the offensive line improved too much for Dworaczyk to have a starting spot.
"We have so many young guys who come here ready to play," Dworaczyk said. "Just with raw athletic ability, they are ready to play. When it comes down to getting in games, the more they play, the better they get.
"I saw that with La'el. He was so much better tonight than last week."
It's happening all over the field for the Tigers.
The Honey Badger role once played by Tyrann Mathieu was filled by committee. Jalen Mills, the true freshman who replaced Mathieu in the starting lineup when Mathieu was booted off the team, picked up his first career interception in the third quarter. Redshirt freshman Micah Eugene showed he could fill the other part of the role, blitzing from his safety position to record one of four sacks of UW quarterback Keith Price.
"I think some of those young corners are very talented guys," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I think we are a fortunate team to be able to have a quality two-deep that, if we lose a guy, that guy steps in to the breach and he plays to the responsibility of the position."
LSU looked better than a week ago, across the board.
Alfred Blue broke the 100-yard mark for a second straight game. The Tigers defense, held sackless by North Texas, pressured Price all night and quarterback Zack Mettenberger was on the money on a 195-yard passing night.
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A more focused Tigers team looked every bit as physically superior to a Pac-12 team coming off two straight bowl appearances as it did last week against a Sun Belt Conference team coming off a 5-7 season.
"It's pretty clear from the naked eye that's a pretty good football team that got after us tonight," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said.
If there was one knock on the Tigers, it came from five dropped passes, including a touchdown dropped by Russell Shepard and three drops, plus a fumble on the opening kickoff, by Odell Beckham Jr.
If not for drops, Mettenberger would have been even better than his efficient, 12-for-18, one-touchdown night suggested. It's a sign that, while dominant, LSU is far from a finished product.
"We are going to look at some of those drops and some of those penalties [5 for 43 yards]," Miles said. "If we do the right things and we improve, we have the potential to be a dominant football team."