BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - LSU's opener is nearly a month away and already defensive end Sam Montgomery and the Tigers are focused on settling unfinished business.
"There is a sense of urgency to play football," Montgomery said after LSU's first practice of August camp Thursday. "It's deeper than passion. It's deeper than love. It's deeper than a want-to. Everybody just wants to play football. We want it now."
Montgomery earned third-team All-America honors following his sophomore season at LSU, playing on a team that was the undefeated champion of the Southeastern Conference before losing its final game - a rematch with Alabama for the national title.
In every game last season against teams not named Alabama, LSU won by double digits. The Tigers won their first match-up with the Crimson Tide 9-6 in overtime at Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium, then fell 21-0 in the BCS national title game in the Superdome.
"Our attitude is not per se due to the loss to Alabama," Montgomery said. "We came up short after all our hard work, sweat and tears last year. But, it's more. We came up short of our dream and that hurt us."
LSU's defense turned in a valiant effort in the national title game, holding Alabama out of the end zone until the fourth quarter, but the offense did nothing against Alabama's talented defense.
Zach Mettenberger, the No. 3 quarterback behind Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee last season, is now the leader of the offense. The consensus opinion at LSU's football operations building is that Mettenberger is a much better passer than either Jefferson or Lee, with the ability to make defenses pay for overplaying the Tigers' deep and punishing running game.
"It's a huge difference being the starter," Mettenberger said. "Last year, I was third string and I came to practice with the young guys in the afternoon on the first day. Today was great to throw the ball around and get back on the field with the (first-team) guys."
LSU opens Sept. 1 at home against North Texas, and as the season approaches, a word heard often from Tigers players is "Finish."
"We didn't finish the way we wanted to finish last year," Mettenberger said. "That's something we are trying to get over. I saw a lot of focus this summer. We are going to come in and work hard."
Safety Eric Reid made a huge interception to help LSU beat Alabama in their regular-season showdown. According to Reid, nobody mentioned the national title game during summer workouts. However, that loss has not been forgotten.
"We all know we didn't finish last season the way we wanted," Reid said. "I'm just thankful we have another chance. No one verbalizes what happened against Alabama. We are trying to move on from that game."
Guard Josh Dworaczyk, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility, is the only player still remaining from the team that won the 2007 national title. Dworaczyk, redshirted in 2007 as a true freshman, received a medical redshirt after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
There is no guarantee Dworaczyk will regain the starting job he held in both 2009 and 2010, but he is back for another reason.
"Everybody who is back this year is back to win," Dworaczyk said. "That's why I'm back. I didn't come back to be a starter. We didn't finish last year and we are focusing on that. We want to finish every practice. We want to finish every play. We want to finish the season."
Notes: Star cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, was off limits to media after Thursday's opening practice. ... LSU players seemed please about being ranked first in the USA Today Top 25 coaches poll released Thursday, but did not make too much of it. "It's a huge honor that the coaches have us No. 1," Mettenberger said. "We were No. 1 11 weeks last year. We don't really talk about who's No. 1. It's more important to finish No. 1."