In the college football world, there wasn't a better coaching hire this past offseason than Cam Cameron.
Those aren’t my words. Those are the words of Sporting News senior writer Matt Hayes, who recently wrote that "there's not a single coach who has done more for a team's championship hopes than the man who, when we last saw him in college football, was being run out of town at, of all places, Indiana.”
Cameron was run out of Baltimore, too, and the Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl without him. In his five seasons as offensive coordinator, Cameron played a large role in the steady development of Joe Flacco. But before he was fired in early December and replaced by Jim Caldwell, both the quarterback and the offense appeared to reach their ceiling with Cameron calling the (sometimes conservative) plays.
It didn’t take long for Cameron to resurface at LSU, where fellow Michigan man Les Miles hired Cameron to breathe life into a conservative offense that had been holding the Tigers' championship-caliber defense back. Despite Cameron’s success with the San Diego Chargers and in his early years in Baltimore, the hire was met with raised eyebrows nationally and skepticism from LSU fans, who are known to use offensive coordinators as verbal piñatas on sports talk radio and message boards.
Four weeks into the NCAA season, though, folks like Hayes are praising Cameron for the work he has done with LSU's offense, specifically quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
Sure, there have been a couple of cupcakes on the Tigers' early-season schedule, but LSU put up 37 points in a season-opening win against TCU and 35 in Saturday’s win over Auburn. They are 13th in the nation in scoring at 43.2 points per game and 26th in total offense with 480.2 yards per game. They ranked 59th and 87th, respectively, in 2012.
The biggest difference down in Baton Rouge has been the play of Mettenberger, whom Cameron compared to a college-aged Flacco when I chatted with him in June.
“He’s got a similar arm to Joe. I would imagine that he will have one of the stronger arms in college football. He’s got an NFL arm. He’s a sneaky-good athlete. He might go through a similar progression to what Joe went through,” Cameron said of Mettenberger in that phone interview. “He’s really raw. He’s only started here one year. Joe didn’t play a lot of college football. This kid has only played one full year as a starter and he will be our starter this year. He could take a similar path to Joe Flacco. He’s got that kind of ability.”
In 2012, his junior year, Mettenberger completed 58.8 percent of his throws for 2,609 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He averaged 7.41 yards per attempt and had a NCAA passer rating of 128.3. As a senior, he has completed 64.8 percent of his throws for 1,026 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception. He is averaging 11.28 yards per attempt and his NCAA passer rating up to 193.6.
The stat that stands out is Mettenberger’s yards per attempt. Cameron has installed his vertical passing attack and is being praised for -- wait for it -- the Tigers taking more chances.
And Miles recently said that under Cameron, Mettenberger has transformed into a completely different quarterback.
"This quarterback is more leadership, more strategic, a thinking-man's position. I think he's enjoying it greatly. Some of the things we do are similar and some are completely different [than last year],” Miles told The New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I think Cam's having a real impact."
We will see if Mettenberger and the Tigers can continue to pile up passing yards and points with Cameron calling the plays or if the honeymoon quickly concludes once LSU gets deeper into its SEC schedule. But if LSU can outscore teams like Alabama and Texas A&M; while running the table, what Hayes wrote about Cameron might turn out to be correct.