BATON ROUGE, La. — Apparently, new LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is doing something right. Zach Mettenberger’s single-game school record five touchdown passes against UAB attested to that.
Three of Mettenberger’s scoring strikes went to Odell Beckham Jr., who also returned a missed field goal 100 yards for a score, and the ninth-ranked Tigers overwhelmed the Blazers 56-17 on Saturday night.
Mettenberger, who had 12 TD passes in all of 2012, has six through this season’s first two games, and credited both the athleticism of his receivers and the confidence he’s gained from working with Cameron, who returned to college last winter after more than a decade in the NFL.
“He knows the talent we have on this team offensively,” Mettenberger said. “We are going to stick to the passing game. Obviously we showed tonight that if we execute like we did tonight that there is all the reason to have confidence in us.”
In most seasons since Les Miles took over in 2005, LSU has been a power running team with a deep stable of ball carriers. One exception would have been 2006, when Jamarcus Russell was throwing to Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and Early Doucet.
Now it’s Mettenberger building what looks like prolific chemistry with Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
“You get a lot of opportunities in this offensive system,” Beckham said. “Coach Cam has instilled in us a different mentality. … It’s just crazy. I never would expect it to be the way it is and it’s just phenomenal to be a part of.”
The running backs were still involved, of course. Jeremy Hill made his season debut for LSU (2-0) when coach Les Miles decided early in the second quarter to end the running back’s benching in connection with his arrest in a bar scuffle last spring.
After sitting out a game and a quarter, Hill rushed for a 3-yard touchdown on his first carry and wound up rushing six times for 50 yards.
“I wanted to get him going,” Miles said. “There’s a guy that has been away from his team for four months and not really in great shape. If you look at him, you can kind of tell. We wanted to get his timing and running the ball going.”
The Blazers (0-2) came in with a perfect record in Death Valley — a stunning 13-10 last second win in their only other visit in 2000.
It wasn’t long before the Tigers put to rest any notion of that happening again.
“They made plays. The loss was tough and it was painful,” UAB linebacker Jake Ganus said. “We have a good game plan, but I think we need to execute it better.”
Beckham, who also returned a punt 60 yards to set up Kenny Hilliard’s 1-yard TD run, finished with 331 all-purpose yards.
Mettenberger was 16 of 19 for 282 yards and was not intercepted. Beckham’s 136 yards and three TDs receiving were both career highs.
Landry, who had five catches for 71 yards, caught two touchdown passes, leaping and reaching high to snag his 24-yard score. Mettenberger put the ball where only Landry had a chance at it, out of the reach of a defensive back undercutting the route.
Beckham had only two 100-yard receiving games as a sophomore last season. He has two in his first two games this season.
The Tigers marched 89 yards in only five plays on their second series, thanks in large part to three catches for 87 yards by Beckham. His 49-yard reception set up his 29-yard score on a hard throw by Mettenberger, who hit his target in stride as two helpless defenders converged.
Beckham started LSU’s next drive with a 15-yard run on an end-around and finished it with a 22-yard TD catch.
UAB reserve quarterback Jonathan Perry fumbled near his own 20 early in the second quarter, setting up Hill’s TD, which made it 28-0.
Darren Reaves scored UAB’s first touchdown on a 12-yard run in the second quarter.
Receiver Jamarcus Nelson added a 41-yard touchdown catch from Austin Brown that pulled UAB to 35-14. The Blazers added a field goal as time expired in the first half to get as close as 35-17.
“There was a stretch in that game in the second quarter where we played pretty good football against one of the top programs in the country,” UAB coach Garrick McGee said. “Then, we came out in the third quarter, we dropped some balls, we made some missed assignments, we didn’t compete as hard.”
LSU responded with Beckham’s third touchdown catch on a precision 27-yard pass to the corner of the end zone.
But the highlight of Beckham’s night, even if the game was in hand by then, may have come when he camped out in the back of the end zone for Ty Long’s 59-yard field goal attempt. He told teammates before the play to be ready to block if he was able to run it out. He caught it deep in the end zone, and by the time the Blazers realized it, Beckham was sprinting down the left sideline with blockers in front of him.
“He has a want to make a big play. It’s a feel,” Miles said. “Guys like Morris Claiborne or guys like Tyrann Mathieu that say we have to make a play — I think he has the same penchant to say ‘hey, I want to make this play’.”