BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — An anemic passing attack during LSU's first four games under first-year starter Zach Mettenberger has yet to discourage Les Miles.
The Tigers coach said Monday he is generally happy with Mettenberger's play, including the 12-10 victory at Auburn last Saturday.
Still, Miles expects the third-ranked Tigers to improve their passing game against Towson this Saturday before facing a challenging three-game stretch in October — Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
Mettenberger was supposed to provide an immediate upgrade in LSU's air attack. While LSU is averaging 40 yards more through the air this season than it did last year, the Tigers still are not producing 200 passing yards per game.
In addition, Mettenberger's 147.9 efficiency rating is in the same range as the combined mark of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee in 2011. Mettenberger has completed 68 percent of his passes for 778 yards and four touchdowns, but he has thrown two red-zone interceptions and been sacked seven times.
Miles said he likes Mettenberger's leadership and toughness, and that everyone from the offensive line to running backs to the receivers need to improve in the passing game.
"Zach can do it," Miles said. "I liked his leadership. He also has toughness. (The problem) is not Zach. It's the offensive line. It's the backs. It's everyone."
Miles noted that his wide receivers have had their share of drops in the first four games.
A potential long completion to Odell Beckham last weekend was dropped. Then, James Wright failed to catch a ball that was basically placed right in his hands. Mettenberger was just 15 of 27 against Auburn.
"The receivers are improving," Miles said. "They are a work in progress. They did the job in several instances. In other instances, they can play better. But, give the opponent credit. They covered some routes, too."
Miles was more upset with the second of Mettenberger's two first-quarter fumbles. The first fumble at Auburn's 2 was the result of a miscommunication between Mettenberger and backup center Elliott Porter. The second fumble came in the pocket when Mettenberger was sacked by Corey Lemonier.
"You can't turn it over in the pocket," Miles said. Mettenberger "has to recognize when there is pressure in the pocket you have to get it out of your hands."
Miles said pass protection is a concern. LSU tackles Josh Dworaczyk and Alex Hurst had their problems with Auburn ends Lemonier and Dee Ford. The two Auburn defenders combined for two sacks and three quarterback hurries.
"Absolutely, I'm concerned about the pass rush," Miles said. "Any time someone is in our backfield I want to address it. One of the sacks was the result of a miscommunication with a back on that side. We'll work on that and make the tackles more aware of what's happening."
Dworaczyk, who usually plays guard, moved to the all-important left tackle position when Chris Faulk suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier this month. Miles stressed that he intends to continue to go with Dworaczyk at left tackle.
"I like the lineup we have in our offensive line," Miles said. "We'll try to improve it the way it is. If I do make a move, it will not disrupt the whole line."
Although the offense produced only one touchdown against Auburn, Miles is more worried about his team's turnovers and penalties. Through four games, the Tigers have committed five turnovers and have been penalized an average of eight times a game for 59 yards.
"We put 350 yards on our opponent," Miles said of the Auburn game. "If we don't turn the ball over two times and let our defense play with a long field, we would have had the opportunity to separate from our opponent.
"Then, we gave (Auburn) 80 yards in penalties. Auburn ran for just 80 yards. Let's just punt the ball and see what they can do against our defense."
Miles was pleased that his team was able to make key plays down the stretch to win a close game on the road.
"If I had to have a characteristic of a team, it would be this," Miles said. "At the back end of the game, I want a team that plays competitively and rises to the occasion.
"The defense was there the whole game against Auburn. The offense made a drive which we needed at the end to win the game. We have some things to fix. I am looking forward to fixing things and I know the team is looking forward to it."