It's college football time in Baton Rouge, La., and the LSU Tigers wrapped up their spring practice with a Purple versus White team scrimmage on Saturday afternoon in Death Valley.
Coming off a 10-3 season in 2012, Les Miles' team can't have a good taste in its mouth after losing to Florida, Alabama and Clemson on the year—the last of which came in the Chick-Fil-A bowl in late December.
The Tigers have had an entire offseason to stew over the one-point loss to Clemson.
With a full slate of SEC games expected to challenge LSU maybe more than ever before in the Miles era, finding replacements for the NFL-bound talent on defense and sifting through the depth chart on the returning guys on offense was the main focus of the team's final organized event of the spring.
Before the game began, reporters and fans could not have asked for a better day for spring football. Chad Sabadie of WVUE in Louisiana noted as much on Twitter:
Chad Sabadie @ChadSabadie
Beautiful day at #TigerStadium for the #LSU spring game @fox8nola http://t.co/YF7SYWU8aw2013-4-20 18:10:00
Matt Moscona of ESPN 104.5 did, too:
Matt Moscona @MattMoscona
Immaculate day in Tiger Stadium. Why can't every game day look like this? #LSU http://t.co/wKv22zLd7D2013-4-20 17:59:49
Divided into Purple and White squads to get a look, the odds favored the White squad when things began. Featuring returning starters Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill and Odell Beckham Jr., the White team had many of the team's projected 2013 starters and others aiming to grab starting jobs.
The early odds were right.
The White team got off to a slow start but ended up dominating the game from about the midway point of the second quarter on through the game. The final score from Baton Rouge was 37-0 in favor of Mettenberger and the light-colored jerseys.
In the first quarter, the Mettenberger doubters were firing up columns about how he can't lead this team in the upcoming season.
The 2012 starter really struggled in the first quarter. He missed receivers left and right and had two straight passes batted down in the red zone at one point after it looked like the White team was ready to score. Instead, the White team took only a three-point lead into the second frame.
After Purple team QB Anthony Jennings completed a 40-yard pass that led to a missed field goal at the beginning of the quarter, Mettenberger and the White offense decided it was time to wake up.
Mettenberger led two touchdown drives, leading the White team to a 16-0 halftime lead and a glimmer of hope for the first-team offense after it looked like third downs and missed throws would characterize this day early on.
Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham both had touchdowns to cap the late first-half surge, and Beckham added a second-half score to cement the fact that LSU is back to having elite wideouts capable of moving on to the next level.
Here's a brief look at some of the stat leaders from the first half (h/t LSU Football on Twitter).
LSU Football @LSUfootball
First half offensive leaders: Zach Mettenberger is 12-19 with 236 yards and two TD's; Anthony Jennings with 82 yards passing and 26 rushing2013-4-20 20:28:40
LSU Football @LSUfootball
Odell Beckham Jr. with 5 catches for 181 yards and a TD and Jeremy Hill with 8 carries for 51 yards. Lamin Barrow with 6 tackles.2013-4-20 20:28:57
While Jennings had a solid day (80-plus yards passing, 20-plus yards rushing and several nice evasion moves against the rush in the first half), he could not lead the Purple team to any points on the day, something that could cost him after the second-half performance of Stephen Rivers.
Playing with the White squad after Mettenberger's day was done, Philip Rivers' little brother led the offense on three additional touchdown drives during the running-clock portion of the second half. He looked crisp in the pocket, had nice touch on his passes and looked to grab a firm hold on the QB-in-waiting job.
Gary Laney @GaryMLaney
Rivers makes another nice play buying time in the pocket, then dumping to Hill for 27 yards. One note: Defense has several walk-ons. #LSU2013-4-20 21:00:05
Matt Moscona @MattMoscona
Althought he's facing a D made up mostly of underclassmen and walk-ons, Stephen Rivers has looked sharp today #LSU2013-4-20 21:06:21
Still, he had a nice afternoon, and if Mettenberger falters at all during the regular season, you can bet fans and the media will be calling for this young man to come in and try to open up the offense even more.
Other standouts included linebacker Lamin Barrow and safety Craig Loston—the latter of whom had two interceptions on Saturday and looked like the best defensive player on the field for most of the day.
The running game also looked good, and Les Miles can hang his hat on the fact that the team came back strong after a slow start. Let's check out some of the grades from this game and who stood out the most from this final spring day in the Bayou.
QB Zach Mettenberger: B
Slow starts could come back to haunt the Tigers in 2013, but that's what spring games are for.
Mettenberger looked rusty and a bit inaccurate at times after the four-month layoff, but that can be expected after not hitting the field for quite some time.
However, he did bounce back with several nice throws, including a 79-yard pass to Beckham that went the distance to the end zone. It was one of his best throws of the day and helped the White squad take control for good.
The accuracy issues and poor throws early were alarming, as was a bad two-minute drill at the end of the first half. But for one half of play, against a talented defensive setup, this wasn't a bad afternoon for Mettenberger at all.
He gets a "B" because the expectations are higher in year two.
QB Stephen Rivers: A
Rivers finished 7-of-10 passing for 185 yards and two TDs, and he just might have put himself in the starting QB competition if not for a comeback performance by Mettenberger.
The young man with an NFL bloodline doesn't have the dual-threat ability of a guy like Jennings, but does have great pocket presence and should only improve with more game situations like this one.
His throw to Beckham was a thing of beauty, and he can go home tonight satisfied that he took advantage of this opportunity to shine.
WR Odell Beckham Jr.: A+
If there's a go-to receiver on the roster, he'll be known as OBJ this season.
Beckham had a pair of touchdown receptions from both of his White squad QBs and was clearly the best receiver on the field on Saturday. He has the trust of the QBs, and he also has the skills to back up that trust.
From straight-line speed to route-running prowess, LSU's Beckham should be fun to watch during the 2013 season, and his six catches for 202 yards and two TDs were just the start of what should be a special year.
S Craig Loston: A+
Secondary is a major concern for the Tigers this season, highlighted by the fact that some key pieces of the unit (Eric Reid) are moving on to the NFL.
The lack of depth was evident, as Rivers tore up the group of walk-ons and other backups, but there wasn't much passing room for the first-team offense against Loston on Saturday.
From knocking down passes to making tackles, this guy was everywhere. Jason Bernos thinks this young man will be the best player on the defense when the season is over:
Will be #LSU's best players this year. “@AllenK_81: Both Jeremy Hill and Craig Loston looking very impressive so far.”2013-4-20 19:18:52
Watching Saturday's game, he might be right.