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LSU strives for offensive balance

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Source: The LSU Reveille Source: The LSU Reveille

Spencer Hutchinson | LSU Reveille

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Or so the old adage goes, but the LSU Tigers are looking for a fix. They just haven't found it yet.

In the past, LSU coach Les Miles and his staff have received negative reaction to their lopsided play calling.

Miles has said he wants to return to a more balanced attack that stays closer to 50-50 this season.

But Miles said play calls depend on the current situation in a game.

"There are pieces and times in every game where you must throw it, and there's pieces and times in every game where you must run it," Miles said. "The game dictates that many times."

In the last few seasons, the game must have dictated running.

Last season, 68 percent of the Tigers' total offensive plays were rushing plays, and 57 percent of their total yards were picked up on the ground.

The Tigers have finished two straight seasons with more rushing yards than passing yards, and they're well on their way to a third.

Many people expected LSU to pass more often this season, led by junior transfer quarterback Zach Mettenberger who was hailed by many Tiger fans as a savior from the run-heavy days of the past.

But that hasn't been the case.

In LSU's first three games, the run game has dominated the offensive game plan with 67 percent of the calls — nowhere near the 50-50 Miles said he hopes for.

Against Washington — the Tigers' most lopsided play-calling game this season— the Tigers ran the ball 52 times and passed only 19, meaning a whopping 73 percent of the Tigers' plays from scrimmage were rushes.

But even though the Tigers are passing at almost the same rate, Mettenberger has increased their effectiveness in the passing game.

Last season behind the arms of senior quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, the Tigers averaged 7.7 yards per completion. This season Mettenberger and his receivers have averaged 9 yards per completion.

Mettenberger is also connecting on a higher percentage of his passes, completing just more than 72 percent compared to the 62 percent the Tigers posted last season.

Senior wide receiver Russell Shepard said the threat of Mettenberger leading a revamped Tiger passing attack is enough to worry opponents.

"We've shown we can throw the football," Shepard said. "We've shown we can throw it down the field, short and all types of different ways, and I think that keeps defenses on their toes."

Against Idaho on Saturday, the Tigers came the closest to 50-50 this season. The Tigers threw for 222 yards, breaking the 200-yard landmark for the first time this season.

At halftime, the Tigers actually had more passing yards than rushing yards.

But as the Tigers ran away with the game, they kept the ball on the ground. By the end of the game, the Tigers were back to 62 percent run plays with 52 percent of their 472 total yards coming from the run.

Maybe there's a method to the Miles' run-heavy madness.

LSU's recent history proves that the Tigers are less successful the more they pass.

In the only game LSU lost last season — the 21-0 throttling at the hands of Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game — the Tigers had more passing yards than rushing yards.

The last time LSU ended a game with more passing attempts than rushing attempts was in 2009 in a 25-23 loss to Ole Miss.

LSU has now spent 19 straight weeks ranked in the AP top 5 — a school record — and in that time, the Tigers have relied most heavily on the run game.

Senior offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk said his opinion of the coaches' play calling fits the old adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Mettenberger reiterated Dworaczyk's thoughts, saying that if the running game is working, there's no reason to abandon it just for the sake of throwing for more yards.

"As a thrower and a quarterback, I'd love to throw the ball downfield a little more, but like I always say, ‘whatever gets victories,'" Mettenberger said. "If we keep pounding the ball like we do, we're not going to throw the ball downfield 40 times a game."

Dworaczyk said he sympathizes with LSU fans who would like to see more passing in the Tigers' game plan.

He said he knows running the ball most of the time doesn't make the most exciting offense, but it works for the Tigers.

"I hope our fans realize that whenever this offense is rolling and we're running the ball like we are, we're demoralizing defenses," Dworaczyk said. "And I enjoy it."

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