BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Zach Mettenberger insists LSU's offense is not as bad as it looks.
"We're close. We're very close," Mettenberger said after practice Monday evening. "We just got to get it to where all 11 guys on offense are doing the right things at the right time."
LSU (5-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) was unable to score a single touchdown in a 14-6 loss at No. 4 Florida last weekend, but Mettenberger said eliminating minor, correctable errors could drastically enhance the ninth-ranked Tigers' offensive output when No. 3 South Carolina (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) visits Death Valley this Saturday night.
"There are a lot of different things that factor into it that fans and the media don't really see but I can assure you that all of our mistakes are correctable," he said. "We've just got to take care of business and get them corrected."
If the Tigers' fail to do as their quarterback prescribes, their hopes of playing for a national title in Miami could virtually vanish. A victory, however, would provide almost immediate redemption and inject the Tigers right back into the BCS discussion.
"It's a perfect situation," safety Eric Reid said. "We had a tough loss, but at the same time, we can have a big win this Saturday."
Reid and the rest of LSU's defense remains confident after shutting out the Gators in the first half and forcing two turnovers on fumbles before Florida broke through for a pair of second-half touchdowns. By then end of the game, LSU's defense had played an exhausting 70 snaps and had been on the field for nearly two-thirds of the game (37:24).
"We did have a couple miscues but I feel like we improved a lot," said LSU linebacker Kevin Minter, the SEC defensive player of the week after making 20 tackles (one short of a school record), registering two sacks and forcing a fumble. "This was probably our best game that we played, I feel like, especially with the competition we were going against. Florida has a ridiculous amount of talent."
LSU coach Les Miles called his defense's performance "tremendous," and said both side of the ball are playing with plenty of effort.
Still, he acknowledged the anemic state of the offense threatens to undermine LSU's season if its execution does not improve.
"We have to play smarter," Miles said. "We have to run it and throw it better."
LSU has averaged nearly 200 yards on the ground this season, though much of that has come against overmatched opponents. The Tigers managed only 42 yards rushing against the Gators, and the passing game did little to offset the Tigers' struggles on the ground. Mettenberger completed fewer than half his passes for 158 yards, was intercepted once on an overthrow of an open receiver and was sacked four times.
"All of us are making our mistakes at inopportune times," Mettenberger said. "It's a learning process."
That process has been slowed somewhat by injuries, particularly to the Tigers' top offensive lineman, left tackle Chris Faulk. That has forced some shuffling up front, but Miles said LSU has recruited well and has the talent to fill the voids. The key is how quickly the new starters learn from their mistakes.
"We enjoy the fact that there are some young guys being trained and playing key football early in this season so that we can be the best later in the season," Miles said.
Mettenberger and quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe have discussed ways to deal with the pass rush while the reformed offensive line jells, and they decided the shotgun formation was not the answer. Mettenberger said taking the snap under center with a five-step drop allows him to read the defense better than if he has to take his eyes off the opponent momentarily to catch a shotgun snap.
Miles also said it may be time to call more plays for powerful running back Spencer Ware, last season's second-leading rusher.
"He is a guy that, in my opinion, is a pretty dangerous weapon and someone that we have to use more frequently," Miles said.
Miles said Mettenberger is continuing to improve, and that everything from dropped balls to fumbles like the one Odell Beckham Jr. had deep in Florida territory are as much to blame for the offense's struggles as any mistakes by the quarterback.
Jarvis Landry said he and fellow receivers plan to work extra with the quarterbacks after practice, as they did last week, in hopes of improving their timing and chemistry.
"Right now it's just trying to work on trust — trust with Zach and timing," Landry said. "For an effective passing game, those things are the highest requirement. It's just being in right place at the right time and Zach trusting us to be there and letting the ball go."