LSU Tigers Football Preview 2013: Five Key Questions

Photo: LSU Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger (8) during a fall practice at the McClendon Practice Facility. (Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)

Photo: LSU Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger (8) during a fall practice at the McClendon Practice Facility. (Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)

As the daily countdown until kickoff moves into the single digits, and the LSU Tigers turn their full attention to the Cowboys Classic in Dallas, the excitement for the 2013 football season continues to build.

LSU clashes with TCU Saturday, Aug. 31 in its highly anticipated season opener, and just like any other year, this season’s squad is subject to numerous question marks. Here are five key questions for the Bayou Bengals in 2013:

1. What effect will Cam Cameron have on the offense?

The arrival of long-time NFL offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been met with almost as much excitement as the hiring of a new head coach. The LSU running game has always been fearsome under Les Miles, but ever since the departure of Matt Flynn in 2007, the passing game has struggled to take off.

Cameron served as an NFL coordinator for 11 years, tutoring the likes of Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, and Joe Flacco. In that time, he orchestrated potent offenses that relied on a sturdy ground game to set up the play-action pass, with emphasis on the deep ball. From a talent standpoint, the pieces are in place for Cameron to do just the same in Baton Rouge.

2. Will Zach Mettenberger be able to achieve consistent success in the passing game?

Strong-armed signal caller Zach Mettenberger has all the tools to be a successful collegiate quarterback, but what he lacked in 2012 was consistency.

After a subpar start to the season, Mettenberger finally found his rhythm on the season’s biggest stage – the Alabama game. In a 21-17 loss, Mettenberger carved up the Crimson Tide defense for nearly 300 passing yards, and continued that success in the Mississippi State and Ole Miss games. But he fizzled out again in the bowl game with a lackluster performance against Clemson.

With Jarvis Landry emerging as a go-to receiver in fall camp, and an effective ground game to help set up Cameron’s play-action-based air attack, it seems as though all the ingredients needed for a solid campaign have been laid before Mettenberger’s feet.

3. Who will step up to fill the void at defensive end?

The defensive end spot was one of the Tigers’ strongest positions a year ago. But the loss of three NFL draft picks, including sixth overall selection Barkevious Mingo, leaves what some would consider to be a large hole, perhaps even a weakness.

Never mind what some would consider. Jermauria Rasco, Danielle Hunter, and Jordan Allen should sufficiently atone for the losses. Rasco appears to have locked down one of the vacated spots, while Allen and Hunter are in the midst of a fierce battle for the other. No matter who wins the starting job, however, both Allen and Hunter will play extensively, and opposing offenses won’t find either option easy to contain.

4. Will LSU’s offensive line be able to give Mettenberger adequate protection?

While Mettenberger has a considerable well of talents in his quarterbacking toolbox, the ability to run is not one of them. The 6’5″ senior often finds the going tough when he’s chased out of the pocket, and that happened all too often in 2012. Injuries and unexpected departures decimated the LSU offensive line last year, which finished the season with only two of the five starting linemen it began with.

As for this season, La’el Collins will provide a solid anchor at left tackle, and the rest of the LSU line certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of size. Run blocking is not expected to be a problem, and if these Tigers can buy Mettenberger a few seconds to throw, LSU may have a passing game the likes of which hasn’t been seen in Baton Rouge since the days of JaMarcus Russell.

5. Will LSU regain the hard-nosed attitude it played with in 2011?

In addition to the season-opening tussle with TCU, LSU will take road trips to face top five foes Alabama and Georgia. The Tigers will also host Florida and Texas A&M, giving them a schedule that would make an NFC South team cringe. LSU faced a similarly difficult slate in 2011, and answered the bell by churning out 13 straight victories en route to an SEC title, and a berth in the national title game.

One of the calling cards of that squad was its willingness to step up and meet every obstacle head on. The Tigers lacked this fighter’s mentality last year, and despite a 10-win season, they often appeared lethargic and sluggish.

A challenging contest is often the most effective means of getting competitive juices flowing from the get-go, and LSU has that again this year in the form of TCU. With kickoff a week from Saturday, the college football world will discover soon enough whether or not these LSU Tigers carry that all-important “chip” on their shoulders.