BATON ROUGE — In front of more than 92,000 Tiger fans, No. 1 LSU opened its 2012 season with a win over North Texas, 41-14, Saturday night.
Players and coaches admitted the team played sloppy at times, but more than good enough to win handily.
“We played dominant at times. We will get better and have that opportunity,” LSU head coach Les Miles said. “Imperfect but with reason to smile.”
Alfred Blue was LSU’s starter in the backfield and received the most carries and the most playing time, toting the rock 16 times for 125 yards.
However, it was the second man in, Kenny Hilliard, who stole the show with 13 rushes for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
Michael Ford added 50 yards on the ground, and LSU rushed for 316 in total.
“I liked our backs. I think Blue is really going to have a good fall. He is quicker, stronger and more capable,” Miles said. “I think Kenny Hilliard is ready to play. I didn’t mind Michael Ford. He came in and played. Again, we’re going to have very good tailback play.”
Making his first start in Tiger Stadium, Zach Mettenberger completed 19-of-26 passes for 192 yards. He had one touchdown on a 34-yard strike to Kadron Boone and one interception in the red zone.
“I liked his composure, and he threw a pick down in the red zone. That is something that we will correct. He will learn to take what the defense is giving you more than pressing,” the coach said.
Defensively, LSU held the Mean Green to just 219 yards, however North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson threw a pair of touchdowns to wide receiver Brelan Chancellor. LSU did not allow two touchdowns in any SEC game last season.
Thompson only completed 8-of-21 passes for 143 yards though, and he threw a tipped pick to Eric Reid.
The Tigers struck on their first offensive possession on a 38-yard run from Kenny Hilliard.
Then, Odell Beckham returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown (after previously returning a punt for a touchdown that was nullified by a Jarvis Landry block in the back penalty).
Hilliard added a five-yard scoring rush on the first play of the second quarter, before Drew Alleman made it 24-0 from 44 yards out. Alleman kicked another in the third (30 yards) before Mettenberger’s slant pass to Boone and J.C. Copelend’s five-yard rush rounded out LSU’s scoring in the fourth.
The Tigers now have a week prepare for the Washington Huskies next Saturday night in Death Valley.
“Now, we have to improve and play well,” Miles said. “We have a very quality Washington team coming in. I know they are very capable on offense, defense and special teams. That will be a big challenge for us. We will look forward to it.”
Below is our chronological blog of tonight’s game.
Hello and welcome to Death Valley for the LSU Tigers’ 2012 season opener against North Texas.
LSU, ranked third nationally by the Associated Press and first in the USA Today/Coaches Poll, plays hosts this evening to the Mean Green of the Sun Belt Conference.
A season ago North Texas finished with a 5-7 record, including a 4-4 mark in conference play.
Les Miles’ Tigers, on the other hand, ran roughshod through the top-heavy SEC in 2011, earning their way to a school-record 13-0 record and the conference championship before falling by three touchdowns in the BCS Title Game to division foe Alabama.
Tonight in Tiger Stadium Miles’ men take the field against a live opponent for the first time since that surreal Jan. 9 night in New Orleans.
ESPNU will have the TV broadcast. Kickoff is set for 6:00 p.m.
Here are a few observations inside the stadium two hours before opening kickoff:
- It is definitely a windy afternoon already. Skies overhead give the feeling rain is in store. We’ll see. At this point The Weather Channel lists the temperature as 85 degrees, with temperature for 6 p.m. forecasted to be 83 degrees. There is also a 45% chance of rain leading up to 7 p.m. The winds, coming out of the south, are listed at 7-8 mph. CLICK HERE for the latest hourly look at the forecast in Baton Rouge.
- Just to recap one of the major storylines of the week: It appears redshirt junior RB Michael Ford will be available tonight while redshirt junior OLB Tahj Jones will not be. Both were said to be appealing their ineligible academic status earlier this week by Miles. It has since leaked that Ford will play while Jones might not be in the lineup for some time, definitely not tonight …
… As for the impact that has on the situation at linebacker, look for LSU’s crop of talented true freshmen to play even sooner than expected. Debo Jones and Kwon Alexander were scheduled to play anyway, but their learning curve has to accelerate even more sans Jones. Both are likely to rotate in quickly to the Sam LB spot, a position where junior Luke Muncie is listed as the current starter. After Jones and Alexander, the next two frosh up seem to be Lamar Louis and Lorenzo Phillips. They’re all candidates to cover kicks as well.
UPDATE (5:00 p.m.): The depth chart dispensed by LSU Sports Information is the same as the one reporters received on Monday. There aren’t many surprises, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
The starting offensive line from left, as expected, is Chris Faulk, La’el Collins, P.J. Lonergan, Josh Williford and Alex Hurst. Chase Clement is listed as the starting tight end. James Wright is the starting X-receiver; Odell Beckham Jr. is getting the nod at the Z-receiver while Jarvis Landry is the started third wide-out. Zach Mettenberger will get the go at quarterback (with Stephen Rivers second and Rob Bolden in the emergency role) while J.C. Copeland is the starting fullback, and the combination of Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard are the first tailbacks up.
On defense KeKe Mingo will start at left defensive end while Sam Montgomery starts on the right side. Senior Josh Downs will man one tackle spot next to redshirt junior Bennie Logan, wearing No. 18. Kevin Minter leads the linebacking corps in the middle with Luke Muncie and Lamin Barrow flanking him. True freshman Jalen Mills, wearing No. 28, will open the game at left corner while junior Tharold Simon starts on the right island. Craig Loston is listed as the starting strong safety and Eric Reid at free safety. Expect Jalen Collins to come in as the third corner in nickel and dime situations while Mills, Micah Eugene and some of the freshmen linebackers will man Tyrann Mathieu’s and Ron Brooks’ roles from a season ago. Sophomore Ronald Martin will also factor in as a deep safety in certain dime looks.
- Much like a season ago, RB Spencer Ware still throws and warms up with the quarterbacks pre-game when the signal callers get loose. Just interesting that Miles and the staff always seem to want the former high school QB ready just in case.
UPDATE (5:55 p.m.): The attendance list of Tigers dressed out is in, and several players in the two-deep are out. As expected OLB Tahj Jones (academic) is not dressed out. Ditto for MLB D.J. Welter …
… Welter is currently the No. 2 middle linebacker behind Minter. If pushed into action, one of the true frosh ‘backers who has been cross-training in the middle could step in. Lamar Louis and Ronnie Feist come to mind first.
FIRST QUARTER ANALYSIS
SCORE: LSU 14 - North Texas 0
- LSU starts the game with no surprises in an I-formation (Alfred Blue, J.C Copeland), one TE (Chase Clement) set. Get used to seeing a lot of that in 2012. Odell Beckham and James Wright are the starting receivers. Nic Jacobs is second TE in. Kenny Hilliard second RB in. Landry is the third WR in. Landry and Jacobs replaced Beckham and Wright on LSU’s third-down conversion, and Landry catches a pass with one hand on his first play of the season. Then on the next play, Hilliard takes his first carry of the season 38 yards to the house.
- Russell Shepard makes his 2012 offensive debut on the first play of LSU’s second drive. On that play, Copeland took the ball on a cross-buck type looking run for 16 yards. I’m guessing Miles will call that “fun” after the game too. Connor Neighbors spells Coepland at FB for one play on the drive. On third-and-forever following Mettenberger’s intentional grounding penalty, LSU goes with Hilliard and Blue split in the backfield from a shotgun set.
- LSU goes three-wide plus Shepard in the backfield as a RB on LSU’s first play of its third offensive possession. Shepard gets the handoff but loses yardage. Ford takes his first carry, a pitch on the next play. Ford gains 12 on his east-west carry. LSU goes three-and-out, all from shotgun, three wide receiver sets.
- Mettenberger takes a shot to the chin on a sack on third down. It takes him a second, but he trots off the field. LSU’s offense looked much more efficient under center with a fullback in the game, but when you’ve got a 14-0 lead and haven’t surrendered a first down yet, why not toy around with different stuff a little bit?
- Stephen Rivers comes in for LSU’s fourth drive following the shot Mettenberger took. LSU runs it down the field behind the powerful O-Line and Clement/Jacobs blocking. No passes yet for Rivers as LSU is knocking on the door to begin the second quarter. We enter the second quarter not knowing the status of Mett.
- As was common throughout the end of the 2011 season, Lavar Edwards got the start at one defensive end spot (opposite KeKe Mingo) instead of Sam Montgomery. In fact, through two series, LSU’s No. 99 hadn’t touched the field. He did come in for the third defensive series, when the entire second D-Line took the field. That unit was, from left, Jermauria Rasco, Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson and Montgomery. Pretty unreal depth. Less than 10 plays into the game on defense, LSU had already played eight defensive linemen … and didn’t miss a beat.
- We got a glimpse of LSU’s rotation when going into a dime set. Facing third-and-medium on North Texas’ first drive, the Tigers went dime, subbing in Jalen Collins as the second corner (opposite Tharold Simon), putting Micah Eugene and starting corner Jalen Mills inside as the two gunners (think Mathieu and Brooks from the last two seasons) while leaving Eric Reid and Craig Loston as the two deep safeties. So, for those scoring at home, Eugene and Mills are first-up for the roles of guarding slot receivers and crashing in on the quarterback. One final note on the dime substitution package: It was Luke Muncie who came out at linebacker (and Bennie Logan along the D-Line) to make room for Eugene and Collins in the 3-2-6 set.
- Stating the obvious, Mingo looked awfully good chasing down ball carriers and even pass receivers out there early. Any perceived problems with that neck, on which Mingo had minor surgery in the offseason, are probably exaggerated.
- After Beckham returned his punt, the defense came back out quickly for the fourth time of the evening. There was a little shake-up in the lineup. Kwon Alexander became the first true freshman linebacker to get action on defense, subbing in for Muncie. Coordinator John Chavis also gave Simon a rest at corner, letting the two Jalens take over on the islands. LSU definitely worked a lot of that young talent in early.
- Alexander returned to the field for the D’s last series of the quarter. He appears to be the leader in the clubhouse of the true freshmen at the moment. On that same series, Lamin Barrow was down for a bit and had to be replaced by Debo Jones. On Jones’ first defensive snap, No. 45 raced up the field and made a seven-yard tackle for loss. Lots and lots of speed.
- Another personnel note: As anticipated, Chavis isn’t going to go as much nickel. Instead, as we’ve been told since even before Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed, LSU will just sub in one of the young ‘backers as a third linebacker in Chavis’ preferred 4-3. The first player up in this role vs. North Texas: Kwon Alexander.
Special Teams Notes
- Brad Wing does not play in the first quarter. We’ll be interested to see what’s going on there. Seth Fruge holds and Jamie Keehn, a true freshman from Australia, punts. On Keehn’s first punt of the quarter, fellow true frosh Reid Ferguson snapped it just out of his reach, but Keehn calmly chased it, picked it up and booted it 38 yards off-balance. Great play and poise by the Aussie in his LSU debut.
- Beckham took his first punt return to the house, but a Jarvis Landry block in the back brought it back. In his second attempt, he wasn’t denied by a flag and scored a 70-yard punt return touchdown. So far, LSU losing nothing in the punt return department without Mathieu.
- The following players were spotted on the opening kick coverage unit: Russell Shepard, James Wright, Jarvis Landry, Luke Muncie, Lavar Edwards, Debo Jones, Michael Ford, Micah Eugene, Jalen Mills and Seth Fruge. Other players did come in for later kick-offs, one of whom was true frosh DE Danielle Hunter. Looks like No. 94 may be headed for action in 2012, not a redshirt.
SECOND QUARTER ANALYSIS
SCORE: LSU 24 - North Texas 7
- Hilliard’s first carry of the second quarter is a touchdown — just like his first carry of the first quarter. LSU flexes its muscle on the ground on its fourth drive. In the two drives LSU stayed true to downhill running form, it scored easily. On the other two, it has one first down.
- Mettenberger comes back in on LSU’s next offensive possession. Josh Dworaczyk comes in on this possession to play left guard for La’el Collins. LSU is back to its power sets and drives the ball inside the 30 for a 44-yard Drew Alleman field goal. On fourth and short. Simple, safe offense. Should be a recipe for success all season.
- Dworaczyk remains in for Collins on LSU’s next drive. The Tigers worked it a little closer following an Eric Reid pick but had two illegal formation penalties on this drive. They’ll need to get that fixed in a hurry. Alleman pushes a 34-yarder wide right.
- Josh D. still in. The Tigers get the ball back with about two minutes remaining. Hilliard sprints 60 yards to inside the 10. Mettenberger then throws a pick three plays later.
- It’s clear that Blue is LSU’s favorite option at tailback. He’s got 10 carries and was in for more passing plays than any of the other backs combined. Hilliard, however, was LSU’s most effective back in the first half. He scored two times and had a 60-yard rush just before half that got LSU in striking distance. Hilliard had 113 yards and two scores in the first half.
- We never saw Spencer Ware or Jeremy Hill in the first half.
- Nic Jacobs saw plenty of playing time in two tight end sets. When he lost his helmet and had to leave the game for the play, Travis Dickson spelled him. That was his only offensive play.
- The biggest red flag from the first half offensively has come in pass protection. Mettenberger has been sacked twice, and he’s been hurried and hit a lot. Running backs need to be better at picking up the blitz.
- More bodies pumping in and out of the lineup to build up depth. Senior Chancey Aghayere started the quarter off at one end spot opposite Rasco. He played frequently during the second stanza. That now makes five ends (along with Edwards, Mingo and Montgomery) who have played tonight and six if you include Hunter on special teams.
- One constant defensively throughout the night has been Jalen Mills. The freshman has looked stellar at corner, running fluidly with receivers down the field, breaking up at least one pass that comes to mind and taking the first steps toward cementing himself in that second corner role. Amazing to say this, but right now he seems much preferred to the athletic, lanky Collins on an island. Mills has passed the test with flying colors so far in his opener for LSU.
- The next newcomer into the fray, midway through the quarter, was Ronnie Feist at linebacker. According to LSU Sports Information, that made eight true freshmen who had played at that point. Those players: LBs Alexander, Feist and Jones; DE Hunter; CB Mills; LS Ferguson; P Keehn and S Sandolph. The only one I don’t remember seeing: Sandolph. Still, that’s a lot of youth getting their feet wet for the purple and gold.
- Great show of athleticism by Eric Reid, who snags LSU’s first interception of the season on a diving stab of a tipped ball.
- On final defensive series of half (aside from two plays near goal line), Feist stayed in there, clearly playing middle linebacker (probably in a spot D.J. Welter would usually occupy). The ‘D’ gave up an 80-yard catch-and-run score from Derek Thompson to Brelan Chancellor with 1:55 to play. Definitely some confusion in the secondary on that third-and-10 play. Chancellor crossed Loston’s face once he caught the ball and was just faster than LSU’s strong safety. A minor hiccup so far during the night, but one worth monitoring going forward. The Tigers, at least on that play, were susceptible to yards after catch.
THIRD QUARTER ANALYSIS
SCORE: LSU 27 - North Texas 7
- LSU goes back to La’el Collins at LG. Tigers come out firing in the third quarter but go three-and-out. Maybe it was to try to get Mettenberger’s confidence back up after ending the half with a pick.
- Michael Ford begins LSU’s next drive as the featured back before making way for Kenny Hilliard and then Alfred Blue. Miles is giving each back several plays at a time rather than play-to-play rotations … Mettenberger goes 6-for-6 on the drive, completing mostly short passes for just 18 yards. Beckham, Landry, Wright and Shepard continue to be the four WR rotation, splitting between two- and three-receiver sets depending on if LSU has a FB in the game on a given play. J.C Copeland went down during the drive. Looked like a cramp in one of his calves. He’ll be fine (He returned later in the quarter). Connor Neighbors comes in during his absence. Stephen Rivers spelled Zach Mettenberger at that point of the drive as well. Once again, the Tigers stall in the red zone, and Alleman makes a 30-yard field goal. That drive took more than eight minutes off the clock.
- Still no Spencer Ware or Jeremy Hill.
- The Tigers started just about the same way they did in the first half in terms of defensive personnel. Sam Montgomery got the nod at end along with Mingo. Josh Downs, who has been a frequent visitor to the UNT backfield, and Logan were the mainstays at defensive tackle. All three starting linebackers were back, too, with Barrow showing no signs of the brief knock he sustained in the second quarter. Loston was still holding strong in the back as well with No. 6 not particularly showing any ill affects from the turf toe injury he played through for a portion of Fall Camp.
- There wasn’t a ton of defense to be played in the third quarter as Mettenberger, Rivers and LSU marched on a 16-play, 74-yard field goal drive during the heart of the frame that took up a whopping 8:17 of game clock. Nice period of rest for Chavis’ crew.
- When LSU returned to the field, sophomore Ronald Martin took over for Loston at strong safety. The P.T. marked Martin’s first action of the night on defense. He immediately got in on the action with an assisted tackle on his first play from scrimmage. The ‘D’ forced yet another three-and-out. It’s been mistake-free football for the defense minus that 80-yard TD pass late in the second quarter.
FOURTH QUARTER ANALYSIS
SCORE: LSU 41 - North Texas 14
- With Kadron Boone just breaking into the WR rotation, Mettenberger finds him for a 34-yard TD on the first play of the fourth quarter. That’s a good way to get on the field more often.
- Freshman Vadal Alexander broke into the game for his first action at right tackle with just more than six minutes to play.
-TE Dillon Gordon saw his first-career action at the end of the fourth.
-J.C. Copeland rounded out LSU’s scoring with a five-yard touchdown rush near the conclusion of the game.
- Lorenzo Phillips became the fourth true freshmen linebacker to play when he took the field to start the defense’s first series of the final frame. He played one outside ‘backer spot opposite Kwon Alexander while Minter still kept things steady in the middle. Martin still manned Loston’s strong safety spot, too. Other than that, it was all starters, even up 27 early in the fourth quarter.
-S Corey Thompson also participated at the back end of the game.
- North Texas did eventually push LSU back toward its own goal line with a nice piecemeal drive during the middle portion of the fourth quarter. After Lavar Edwards pushed UNT back with a tackle for loss, Thompson acquited himself very well for the Mean Green, connecting with Chancellor for another TD hook-up. This one came with Chancellor catching an underneath ball and then scooting past some back-up LSU defenders for a 15-yard score. Not a great showing for what was largely the second wave of players on the Tigers’ two-deep depth chart.
Special Teams Notes
- After North Texas’ second touchdown in the middle of the fourth, LSU puts Michael Ford back to return the kickoff. He can do nothing as it is a touchback.