Miles can’t hide the differences. Mettenberger stands 6 feet 5 and has a booming right arm. More than 33,000 fans gathered to watch LSU’s spring game in March and saw Mettenberger lead all passers, going 14 of 25 for 270 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He didn’t run the ball but did connect on two passes of 50-plus yards.
“Being the starter is something I’ve been looking forward to all my life,” Mettenberger said.
Mettenberger threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 32 touchdown passes at Butler County (Kan.) Community College in 2010.
Last season as the Tigers’ No. 3 quarterback, he completed 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. Miles said Mettenberger would have played a role in the championship game had he not hurt his thumb earlier that week in practice.
Mettenberger’s presence in the pocket means opposing safeties and linebackers can no longer anticipate the run on every play. A chess player like Miles relishes what he can do with this offense. He compares Mettenberger to Matt Flynn, the quarterback who led LSU to a national championship in 2007.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” Miles said. “Obviously, I think we’ll throw the football better, we’ll throw it more often, we’ll be more efficient.”
‘Aim even higher’
While the defense adjusts to Mathieu’s absence and the offense tries to incorporate Mettenberger’s unfamiliar talents, the team as a whole must establish its identity early in the season, an important step that Miles began stressing as soon as the Tigers left the title game.
From year to year, Miles and his staff represent the lone connective tissue. This is a different team. Five players were drafted into the NFL, including two underclassmen in the first round. Ten others signed free agent contracts this spring.
“If anything, we’ll use [the championship game] as motivation for this year,” safety Eric Reid said. “We had an amazing year. It didn’t end the way I wanted it to, but we’re looking forward to putting it behind us.”
Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was more succinct. He said this season’s squad can’t afford to relish their 13 wins from a season ago, nor can it wallow in its lone loss. “If you dwell on the past, you can’t move on,” he said.
That’s precisely what Miles has been preaching the past eight months — and what he’s been doing the past 11 years as a college head coach. Does the title-game loss to Alabama still sting? Of course, he concedes. But so does LSU's triple-overtime loss at Kentucky in October 2007. Three months later, LSU hoised the BCS trophy.
“Proper perspective is always difficult the day of the loss,” he said. “But it becomes a little more clear as you go forward. We can recognize that certainly we didn’t play our finest game at the end, but that doesn’t discount everything we accomplished. And regardless of how it ended, we knew we’d have to turn the page, that we’d come back and aim even higher this season.”