Baton Rouge --- Les Miles didn’t need to chew on anything in this one.
The defense pitched their first shutout of the season as LSU cruised to a 51-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday night in Death Valley.
The familiar faces had their moments, from Kelvin Sheppard’s team-high eight tackles and one forced fumble to Patrick Peterson’s third interception of the season.
Then there were the fresh faces.
Ron Brooks returned his first career interception for a touchdown to give the game life in the opening quarter. It was the first defensive touchdown for LSU on the year, but it wouldn’t be the last.
Defensive end Lavar Edwards tacked on a second touchdown for good measure, scooping up a fumble and rolling 29 yards to give LSU a 36-0 lead with 10:05 to play in the third quarter.
The result was never in doubt.
The defense looked its normal self, forcing five turnovers and holding the Warhawks to 190 yards of total offense.
But it wasn’t all green grass for the Tigers.
Offensively LSU was 0-for-8 on third downs in the first half and punted five times, and they finished the game just 2-of-12. After being handed the ball at the 50-yard line or better on five series in the first half, the offense turned out just one touchdown – and that possession began at the 12-yard line.
A week after a coming out party against Alabama, Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee spent the days leading up to Saturday talking about a new chapter turned in the story of LSU’s attack – which entered the game ranked above only Vanderbilt in total offense among SEC teams.
Jordan Jefferson went 4-of-10 for 51 yards, and he rushed the ball three times for just two yards. Jarrett Lee finished 4-of-12 for 44 yards. Both were sacked once and neither threw for a touchdown.
“I can’t tell you what was going on,” Jefferson said. “Obviously we have to capitalize on third downs.”
The 32-10 result over McNeese State last month saw the Tigers total 103 yards passing and finish with less than 300 total yards. This time the offense didn’t manage a drive that resulted in more than 20 yards until the third quarter.
“We can obviously be better,” said Terrance Toliver, who led all receivers with 42 yards on three catches, but also had a number of drops. “Sometimes we aren’t helping these guys out. It’s not just on them. We all need to make sure our focus is there and move forward with something better than this.”
Jefferson got the start and stayed under center on the first two drives, which both resulted in three plays and a punt.
Backed up inside their own 10-yard line, ULM quarterback Luke Russell used a pair of runs to set up 3rd-and-5. Shuffling quarterbacks throughout the night, the Warhawks turned to Kolton Browning. After a 17-yard completion moved the chains, the Tigers came up with a play that set the tone for the defense the rest of the way.
In a moment of firsts, Brooks picked off Browning’s pass and returned it 32 yards for the score.
After a three-and-out by the Warhawks, LSU took advantage of a poor punt and started the drive in ULM territory. With Lee under center for the first time, the Tigers picked up just one first down before settling on a 53-yard field goal, the longest of Josh Jasper’s career. The kick also ties the mark for longest in the Southeastern Conference this season.
Jasper said of the kick: “I had a chance at (53 yards) in Tennessee but I mishit that one. They knew that was a one-time thing. They let me try another at a good distance and I ended up making it.”
Another ULM punt followed, and once more LSU started the drive in enemy territory. Six plays and 19 yards later, LSU settled for the field goal.
Down 13-0, the Warhawks began looking for the big play.
After Browning started the drive passing, Russell stepped in on a quarterback keeper that moved the chains. When Browning went back in and tried for the bomb from midfield, Peterson reminded the redshirt freshman that he was throwing on an All-American. He pulled down the pass at the LSU 3-yard line and weaved his way 85 yards in the opposite direction. With a final sideline block from a hustling Tyrann Mathieu, Peterson handed the LSU offense their best field position of the night.
From 12 yards out, Jefferson and Co. needed five plays – and a fourth-down conversion - to get in on a Stevan Ridley rush.
Though the scoreboard read 20-0, it was evident that the offense was sleepwalking.
No matter, the defense continued to look the part.
ULM’s longest drive followed, a 9-play, 55-yard possession that resulted in a failed fourth-down from the LSU 28-yard line. The next Warhawks possession went just one play before linebacker Kelvin Sheppard hit Russell and forced a fumble, which defensive tackle Pep Levingston scooped up at the ULM 25-yard line.
Despite the royal treatment set-ups from the defense, the LSU offense continued to sputter. Lee picked up an immediate first down on a 12-yard pass to Russell Shepard, but a pair of dropped passes by Terrance Toliver – including one in the endzone for a touchdown – resulted in Jasper’s third field goal of the half.
“Sometimes our offense doesn’t always do what we want it to, but they are confident that they can at least keep getting me in range,” Jasper said. “Luckily we were able to get to that a couple of times tonight.”
By intermission LSU held a 23-0 lead, but the Tigers were outgained 116-90 on offense. The quarterback play was the biggest eyesore; Lee was just 3-of-9 for 31 yards, while Jefferson – 1-of-3 for three yards and no rushes – was even less effective.
The second-half didn’t bring a 180-degree turn, but output was better – and the Tigers got through four quarters without allowing a point.
Jefferson quickly used Ridley and a pair of big pass plays to go 58 yards on six plays for a score on LSU’s first possession.
That made it 30-0.
One play later, Lavar Edwards made it 36-0.
When Centarius Donald checked in at quarterback on a drive that started at ULM’s 27-yard line, LSU defensive tackle Mike Brockers rushed in and forced the fumble. Edwards scooped it and took it in for the score.
“Those are guys that can make those kinds of plays,” said Sheppard of the impact from less-heralded Tigers such as Edwards and Brooks. “Tonight just so happened to be there night.
LSU struck again at the 3:24 mark, going 50 yards on three plays to move the count to 44-0 on freshman Spencer Ware’s first touchdown of his career.
The fourth quarter saw the offense possess the ball only twice, the first ending in a touchdown and the second ending on the game’s final whistle.
The theme of less-heralded standouts continued when Richard Murphy and Michael Ford drove the Tigers to 51-0. Murphy, a fifth-year senior, gained 38 yards on four straight carries. Ford stepped in and was stopped for no gain. He fumbled the ensuing pitch from Jefferson, but he picked it up, reversed field, caught a rewind-the-television block from tackle Chris Faulk, and sprinted in for the 17-yard score.
“I like the fact that our team played for four quarters and executed,” Miles said. “I felt like we did the things we came to do, and that was be a dominant team and to do so for four quarters.”
The Tigers held ULM to 67 yards passing on 22 attempts. The Warhawks gained 123 yards on the ground and were held to 1-of-12 on third downs.
While the offense still raises questions, the Tigers earned their title of the SEC’s best defense.
“I can’t remember the last time we had a shutout around here,” Sheppard said. “It meant a lot to us. We are at the top of the conference. If we wanted to stay there, we had to go get those yards from previous games back.
“We had a mindset to come out and be dominant.”