If LSU is to “rebound” from a three-loss season and again challenge Alabama for SEC West supremacy, an improved offense — along with replacing myriad players lost to early entry into the NFL draft — will be paramount.
Specifically, quarterback Zach Mettenberger will need to take his game to the next level. While LSU’s passing offense improved from an inept ranking of 106th nationally in 2011, the Tigers were still 92nd in the country in that category last season. Mettenberger was serviceable in his first season as the Tigers’ starter, completing just under 60 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns versus seven interceptions.
His passer rating, however, was just 10th among SEC quarterbacks. Many expect a vastly improved player in 2013, and Saturday showed the progress Mettenberger has made this offseason.
In LSU’s first scrimmage of the spring, Mettenberger completed 20-of-30 passes for two touchdowns. Most encouraging for Les Miles and his offensive coaching staff? Most of his work earlier today came against the Tigers’ first-team defense.
“He made a couple of intuitive throws today,” the head coach said of his starting quarterback in quotes distributed by the school. “He saw things very quickly and got the ball out of his hand. Guys anticipated the catch and down the field it went. He looked good and 20-of-30 to start is really nice. Two series were against the second team but the rest of the day was against the first team defense.”
Yes, it’s just the spring and just a scrimmage so there’s no need to thrust Mettenberger’s name onto the Heisman radar. Still, it’s an encouraging sign for an LSU team that will need Mettenberger’s play to skew more heavily toward AJ McCarron than, well, what the position has been the past couple of/few seasons for the Bayou Bengals.
Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian no longer appears headed West after all.
The Crimson Tide play-caller is reportedly staying in Tuscaloosa with a rich new contract after being heavily linked with the head coach opening at Colorado in the past 24 hours. ESPN’s Chris Low was the first to report the news, noting Sark’s new deal will include a pay raise.
Yahoo! Sports later confirmed the same.
The move is certainly a blow to the Buffs, whose coaching search has now extended past the weeklong mark in the wake of Mel Tucker being hired away by Michigan State. Sarkisian was among the more interesting names floated for the gig and made plenty of sense given his connections in the Pac-12 as the former head coach at both Washington and USC.
Former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and ex-Tennessee coach Butch Jones have also been mentioned in connection to the opening. Interim head coach Darrin Chiaverini is pegged as the top internal candidate.
As for Sark, the move is an interesting one. It says plenty that he even got an interview given the way things ended in Los Angeles but also speaks to the image rehabilitation he’s done under Nick Saban as well. Alabama missed out on the College Football Playoff for the first time last season but were among the most dangerous offenses in the country when starting QB Tua Tagovailoa was healthy.
Replacing the Heisman finalist under center will now be one of Sarkisian’s top priorities over the coming months but at least whoever winds up taking snaps against familiar foe USC will have the benefit of playing in an offense that features the likes of Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith.
Sarkisian’s new contract will also be interesting to see once it emerges from the university bureaucracy. He was already the highest paid offensive assistant coach in the country for the upcoming 2020 season at $1.6 million. He originally signed a three year deal to return to the program after a stint with the Atlanta Falcons.
What’s old is new again at Michigan State.
Continuing a theme of either having ties to the school or his stint at Colorado, new Spartans head coach Mel Tucker confirmed a pair of hires for the program with some familiar names. Announced a little earlier on Thursday, former Buffs offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jay Johnson was taking the same role in East Lansing.
“Jay is an experienced play caller and an expert quarterbacks coach,” said Tucker in a release. “He has a very innovative offensive mind. I was with Jay when he was at Georgia and really got to know him well there. He’s had success in the Big Ten before, calling plays at Minnesota. He runs a multiple offense with an emphasis on physicality, and he’s an aggressive play caller.”
Johnson joins OL coach Chris Kapilovic in coming over from Boulder. The former previously was with Tucker as an off-field analyst at Georgia prior to going to CU and served as OC at Southern Miss, Louisiana and Minnesota in recent years.
Perhaps the bigger news for Michigan State fans is the return of another name: Harlon Barnett. A former MSU player, he was a mainstay defensive staff member under ex-head coach Mark Dantonio and was defensive backs coach at the school for over a decade starting in 2007. He was elevated to defensive coordinator from 2015-2017 before taking the same position on Willie Taggart’s staff at Florida State.
In addition to the three names mentioned above, Tucker has also retained Ron Burton and former interim head coach Mike Tressel. Additionally, another former Spartan player, Courtney Hawkins, was named the team’s receivers coach.
You can add Marshall and East Carolina to the list of upcoming ‘Week 0’ games for the 2020 season after the two schools announced a date change for their matchup this year.
While television played a small role in the shift, the two programs sought an NCAA waiver to play on Saturday, August 29 as a way of honoring the 50th anniversary of the tragic plane crash of Southern Airways Flight 932 that claimed the lives of 75 people. The majority of those killed were part of the Thundering Herd football program who were returning from a game against the Pirates.
“We are grateful to Jon Gilbert and everyone at East Carolina University for their efforts in making this schedule change come to fruition,” Marshall AD Mike Hamrick said in a release. “Our people, our universities and our football programs will forever be linked by the tragedy that occurred 50 years ago. This change will allow a national audience to join us in paying proper respect to the 75.”
The incident was famously recounted in the movie ‘We Are Marshall,’ starring noted football fan (and Texas’ Minister of Culture) Matthew McConaughey.
The two programs have met a total of 15 times over the years and have three additional non-conference games set between 2021 and 2025.
Set your calendars for this summer because the SEC preseason bonanza is set to be even more anticipated than it usually is.
The conference office in Birmingham announced the schedule for their annual Media Days event and all eyes in the college football world will be on it in 2020 with the addition of new coaches at a handful of the league’s schools.
The College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta will play host to the festivities, which annually mark the official end of the long offseason and the beginning of a new season for the sport.
2020 SEC FOOTBALL MEDIA DAYS SCHEDULE
MONDAY, July 13
Florida – Dan Mullen
LSU – Ed Orgeron
Missouri – Eliah Drinkwitz
TUESDAY, July 14
Georgia – Kirby Smart
Kentucky – Mark Stoops
Ole Miss – Lane Kiffin
Vanderbilt – Derek Mason
WEDNESDAY, July 15
Alabama – Nick Saban
Arkansas – Sam Pittman
Mississippi State – Mike Leach
Tennessee – Jeremy Pruitt
THURSDAY, July 16
Auburn – Gus Malzahn
South Carolina – Will Muschamp
Texas A&M – Jimbo Fisher
The highlight this year has to be Wednesday’s session that includes Saban answering questions about missing out on the College Football Playoff last year and the arrival of Leach to the throngs of media in the South at his first major appearance for Mississippi State. Having new Arkansas coach Pittman separating the two makes for a real murderer’s row of coaches that can give some quotes.
Don’t discount the day prior either with both Smart and Kiffin headlining things. The latter is no stranger to the event from his brief time at Tennessee too. Reigning national champion LSU and their newly rich head coach will also help kick things off on Monday. Player names will be announced later as well.
SEC Media Days is always quite the event in its own right. Adding in these new personalties to the already established names should make things even more exciting.
July can’t get here fast enough.