His own defense mechanism, perhaps, against saying the wrong thing as a young player who was just trying to fit in.
Now a fifth-year senior, Lee still tends to stick to a script most of the time.
Not so much, though, after Saturday’s season-opening 40-27 victory against Oregon.
This time Lee was raw and real when he was asked how it felt to guide the Tigers to their biggest regular-season victory since they drilled Virginia Tech 48-7 in 2007.
“A lot has happened in my career,” Lee said. “This was my first start back in a while, my first game against a great opponent, and it felt great to be back out there.”
The large and loud LSU contingent at Cowboy Stadium wasn’t shy about its feelings.
Near the end of the game, chants of Lee’s name resonated in the cavernous building, a far cry from what he heard at Tiger Stadium when he struggled in 2008 and ’09.
“It felt good,” Lee said. “I’ve had it go both ways. That’s football. It happens. It was good to have those chants (Saturday).”
Lee was also pragmatic about his performance: 10-for-22 passing for 98 yards and a touchdown. Several drops and a dubious holding call that wiped out a magnificent Odell Beckham Jr. catch for 39 yards kept Lee from making a bid at a 200-yard night.
But he was blunt about the need for improvement in the passing game.
“We need to do a better job of that definitely and we will,” Lee said, “We’ll get better at that.”
On paper, freshman punter Brad Wing’s college debut looked impressive enough. He booted the ball six times for a 41.3-yard average and dropped a pair of punts inside the 20-yard-line.
But it wasn’t only the distance, but the direction, hang time and his knack for getting the ball to turn over that made Wing an unsung hero in the win.
Playing without suspended All-American punt returner Cliff Harris, the net result from Oregon’s side was four punt returns for -10 yards, a lost fumble that Tyrann Mathieu scooped up for a touchdown and another botched play that set the Ducks up from their own 6.
Besides a majestic 58-yard bomb and a 53-yarder, Wing mingled in a handful of shorter kicks that took away the possibility of a return.
“I know he hit a couple of punts there that were very difficult to return,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He has the capability to hit a ball a long way and put some hang time under it and we have some fast coverage guys and that puts a bind on (returners).”
Change in plans
The LSU defense turned the game around by mostly eliminating LaMichael James as a running threat and that created an unwanted ripple effect for the Ducks’ offense.
The look wasn’t something Oregon looked all that comfortable with, either.
James was limited to 54 yards, the second lowest total he’s had since he emerged as the Ducks’ starting tailback early in the 2009 season. Auburn held him to 49 yards last year in the BCS National Championship Game, and he needed a 13-yard run on Oregon’s final drive to eclipse that.
“Those guys up front kept everything in front of them (Saturday),” Mathieu said of LSU’s defensive line. “It wasn’t really about getting a pass rush, but by plugging the gaps and keeping LaMichael James contained. We took him away from their offense and that frustrated him.”
It also thrust quarterback Darron Thomas and the Ducks’ offense into an unfamiliar position.
Playing from 20 points behind wasn’t something Oregon had to do last season in Thomas’ first year as the starter.
With a need for desperation, the Ducks threw the ball 54 times – more than they did in any game last season – and Thomas completed a career-high 31.
But most of his throws were underneath and didn’t cause major damage. And when Thomas missed, he missed badly.
“I don’t think that many teams tested him last year,” Mathieu said. “He had a lot of wide-open throws and that makes it easy for a quarterback. We didn’t give him those and you saw how he struggled.”
Home in the dome
LSU won its second consecutive game in Cowboys Stadium and eighth game overall in covered stadiums.
Ware rushed for 102 yards in the Cotton Bowl last season and had 99 Saturday. Simon has interceptions in each of his games there.
“We need to be improved on offense. We don’t feel like we’ve hung the moon in any way.” – Les Miles
Moving the chains
--- LSU has won consecutive season openers, all seven under Les Miles. Four of those wins have come against Pac-10/12 opponents.
--- The Tigers stretched their non-conference regular-season win streak to 34 games, dating back to a 26-8 loss at Virginia Tech to open the 2002 season.
--- Saturday’s victory was LSU’s 18th in a row in September since a 7-3 loss at Auburn in 2006.
--- Miles has guided the Tigers to a 24-13 record against ranked foes in his seven-year tenure.
--- Sophomore Bennie Logan was a surprise starter at defensive tackle for LSU and he responded with 4 tackles. The start was the first of his career and he was joined in that category by linebacker Kevin Minter, cornerback Tharold Simon, receiver Kadron Boone and Ware.
--- Keep this in mind: LSU has scored 40 points or more in nine of the last 15 season openers – including the 2003 and 2007 national championship seasons.