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BATON ROUGE, La. – While Les Miles is not pleased by the 67 points LSU yielded in a six-quarter span, the Tigers' dominance of their last half of football offers hope as the toughest stretch of their schedule looms.
The 10th-ranked Tigers' defense was shredded on the ground and through the air by Georgia for four quarters and by Mississippi State for two more. But LSU yielded just three points in the second half of its 45-26 victory at Mississippi State on Saturday.
"We are making strides on defense," LSU coach Les Miles asserted. "We have to be confident and play with poise. We just need to tackle well and do the things we are used to doing in practice. The defense is coming. We'll get back to LSU defense very quickly."
In three Southeastern Conference contests, the Tigers (5-1) have given up an average of 30 points while getting off to a 2-1 start in league play. LSU's next four SEC opponents are No. 17 Florida on Saturday, followed by Ole Miss, No. 1 Alabama and ninth-ranked Texas A&M.
For now, LSU's optimism heading into those games stems from the play of Zach Mettenberger, who has completed 70 percent of his passes for 1,738 yards and 15 touchdowns against two interceptions. The senior quarterback is on pace to set school records in yards and touchdowns passing.
"Zach is playing just like we need him to play at home or on the road," Miles said. "He is the leader. He is in charge of the communication. Zach is one of those guys on the field who gives you advantages not just with his arm, but with his mind."
Wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. have combined for 77 receptions, 1,300 yards and 13 touchdown catches in the first six games. Not to be forgotten is the contribution of running back Jeremy Hill, who is averaging almost 120 yards per game on the ground.
LSU's high-flying offense will receive its toughest challenge so far this season against visiting Florida, which is yielding just 12 points and 217 yards per game. Opposing quarterbacks are barely managing more than 150 yards passing per game against the Gators.
Florida coach Will Muschamp realizes this is a far different LSU offense than he saw a year ago — and it all starts with the passing game.
"LSU is very balanced," Muschamp said. "Zach Mettenberger is playing at a very high level. He is so efficient and so effective throwing vertical balls down the field.
"Zach has a better understanding in the passing game with last year being his first as the guy. Everybody matures at different ages. We're in an instant coffee society where we want it right now. That's not always the way it is."
Mettenberger and the Tigers offense struggled in a 14-6 loss against Florida in Gainesville last October. The only LSU points came on two field goals. Mettenberger completed only 11 of 25 passes for 158 yards. The Tigers finished with just eight first downs and 200 total yards.
Such sluggish offensive output appears to be history under first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
"Coach Cameron wants us to play confident," wide receiver Kadron Boone said. "Getting with Cam has helped Mettenberger out. He is making faster decisions and reading defenses faster. When we come out of our break, we had better be looking because the ball is going to be there."
Florida's defenders have noticed.
"The difference in Mettenberger is the confidence in his receivers," Florida safety Jaylen Watkins said. "He gives them a chance to get the ball up the field this year. He's going to throw it and they're going to catch it. He trusts those guys that no matter where he puts the ball, they are going to go up and get it."
LSU cornerback Jalen Mills has seen Mettenberger's progress in practice and enjoyed watching that translate to Saturdays.
"He steps up in the pocket knowing that he's going to get hit. He shows both physical and mental toughness," Mills said. "Right now, I think Zach is the best quarterback in the SEC and not just because I am his teammate. I see it week-in and week-out from him."
AP Sports Writer Mark Long contributed to this report from Gainesville, Fla.