BATON ROUGE — The Tiger program got that winning taste back in its mouth Saturday night.
No. 3 LSU (1-0, 0-0) began the 2012 season with a win inside Tiger Stadium, running past North Texas 41-14 to get back on the winning side of the ledger since the nightmare on Jan. 9.
As a team the Tigers rushed for 316 yards and three touchdowns on 46 carries. Both Kenny Hilliard (13 carries, 141 yards, 2 TD) and Alfred Blue (16 carries, 125 yards) eclipsed the century mark on the ground, the first time a pair of LSU backs accomplished that feat since Spencer Ware and Stevan Ridley turned the trick in the 2011 Cotton Bowl.
Defensively LSU was just as stout against the run.
John Chavis’ crew surrendered only 76 rushing yards on 35 attempts by the Mean Green. Safety Eric Reid led the way with seven tackles and an interception. Linebacker Lamin Barrow had seven tackles of his own.
On special teams Odell Beckham Jr. brought two punts back for six, with one called back due to a Jarvis Landry block in the back and the other, from 70 yards out, good for a touchdown.
But not everything went according to plan.
The LSU passing game, much maligned a season ago with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee at the helm, showed it has a long way to go to be the improved facet so many expected entering the season.
Zach Mettenberger, in his first career D-I start, completed 19 of 26 passes for 192 yards, one touchdown (to Kadron Boone) and one interception near the North Texas goal line. He was also sacked twice, including once by Hilbert Jackson late in the first quarter, a blow that caused Mettenberger to leave the game and return to the locker room for a stretch of time.
Although Mettenberger did complete passes to seven different receivers, the aerial attack was often short in nature, with LSU trying — sometimes successfully, sometimes not — to stretch the Mean Green horizontally.
Following the game head coach Les Miles and several LSU players spoke about the offense’s night, conceding that much ground needs to be gained. Miles even used the word “sloppy” when describing some of the unit’s play.
Miles also said that punter Brad Wing, who didn’t play tonight, is expected back for the Washington game, although he was pleased with how Aussie freshman Jamie Keehn performed in Wing’s stead.
Here was the mood postgame with the LSU players and coaches, followed by some of their best quotes.
Not a single person in that locker room, no matter how optimistic they usually are, seemed satisfied with how the team won. The frustration in wanting to play better was palpable, but at the same time, Miles and the players were happy to have a win and face an actual opponent … Three things seemed to stick in Miles’ craw, as far as the “sloppy” aspects, more than the rest. First he made it clear he expects Zach Mettenberger to be protected better than he was tonight. Second, he didn’t care for Jarvis Landry’s block in the back that negated an Odell Beckham Jr. punt return for six. He just kind of shook his head when asked about that play, reiterating that’s now how they coach their players in those situations. Finally Miles recognized the error in the secondary that allowed UNT’s first touchdown, and he gave the impression that kind of mental lapse is unacceptable and something that needs to be corrected immediately … Most of the offensive players who met with media members were fine with the running game and the holes opened up, but some expressed a feeling that they know the passing game can get better and strike deeper … Defensively the LSU players we interviewed had largely complimentary things to say about all the freshmen who played, particularly the young outside linebackers.
Best of the Quotes
“We rushed for 300 and threw for close to 200 yards. Not too bad. We put 40 points on a team. It was kind of like offense, defense and special teams had an opportunity to play dominant at times, but really had some sloppy plays. That is kind of how I look at it.”
- Les Miles’ opening statement
“I’ve coached against national champion teams, and I’ve been a part of national champion teams. I know what those defenses look like, and the Tigers sure have one of those again this year. They just don’t stay blocked very long. When you think you have them, you don’t. When you think you have them cut off, you don’t. WHen you think you’ve sustained a block, you haven’t. That’s what I saw you from standing on the sidelines. That’s a fast, physical and well-coached defense, as usual at LSU.”
- North Texas coach Dan McCarney on LSU’s defense
“The two touchdowns were both my fault. I put us in a bad position and allowed the receivers to get open. I tried to undercut the route, but I should have stayed on top like I was supposed to. It would have prevented the touchdowns. But we’ll go back into practice, and I’ll be ready.”
- S Eric Reid on defensive mistakes that led to scores
“It’s tough. It’s not like the NFL where we get four preseason games. It’s not like high school where we get jamborees or a scrimmage. So it’s tough to go out there and play your first game. But we got it under our belt, we came away with the win, and hopefully we can get better for Washington.”
- QB Zach Mettenberger on the first game of the season
“You can see a great number of guys got the ball tonight. We spread it around. We threw a lot of passes. It’s something we’ve been working on all fall, all summer and all spring so that we could get to this point and have a productive season through the air.”
- WR Jarvis Landry on if this is what the passing game has looked like in practice
“That’s definitely something I don’t enjoy, getting drilled like that. But it’s part of the game. We just have to prepare so that doesn’t happen next time and adjust … They just took me for some precautionary concussion tests. I passed with flying colors. I had to count backwards from 100 by threes. So I was pretty proud about that. So I’ve just got to rest up tonight and tomorrow and be ready for Monday.”
- Mettenberger on taking a big hit and going to the locker room
“Definitely. Every receiver loves that confidence catch. It’s the shortest route, the easiest throw, just to maybe get you a catch and get in the groove and get in a rhythm with the quarterback. So I think those little throws help us get in unison and into one so that when we have to make those big throws later on we’ll be on target.”
- Landry on if he likes the plethora of underneath passes/routes