There may not realistically be a ho-hum victory in college football, but LSU came as close as possible to delivering one Saturday night.
With another smothering defensive performance, an effective two-quarterback system of Jarrett Lee and Zach Mettenberger and more grind-it-out running, the No. 2-ranked Tigers thundered past Northwestern State 49-3 in front of a crowd of 92,405 at Tiger Stadium.
From LSU’s first offensive snap – a 43-yard Lee-to-Rueben Randle bomb – there was never really any doubt as the Tigers tuned up for their SEC opener five days from now with a workmanlike effort.
“We knew we couldn’t let these guys hang around and give them any hope,” said Randle, who had a huge impact with five catches for 121 yards. “We needed to knock them out early and that’s what we did.”
Just how breathe-easy was the victory?
Afterward LSU coach Les Miles let his guard down enough in the postgame press conference to be just another fan of his alma mater as the Michigan-Notre Dame game played out in the coaches’ locker room next door.
When a loud eruption from there drowned out a Miles answer and somebody walked out to report the Wolverines’ had scored a go-ahead touchdown, the LSU coach offered a slight fist pump and said “Go Blue!”
Then, for a bit of self-needling, Miles said “G-E-A-U-X. I spelled it right that time.”
Yep, it was that uneventful of a night for the Tigers, who spent an offseason focused on a season opener against Oregon and now have a short week to prepare for their SEC opening game at Mississippi State.
Sparked by the long pass to Randle, LSU (2-0) scored on its first possession, shrugged off a Demons’ field goal that was the first points they’ve ever scored vs. the Tigers and then churned out touchdown drives on six of the next eight possessions.
Lee handled the offense in the first half, completing 9-of-10 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown pass to DeAngelo Peterson.
Mettenberger got the reins for the entire second half for his first taste of Division I football and connected on 8-of-11 throws for 92 yards and a scoring strike to Kadron Boone.
That tandem’s 225 yards was balanced by a 175-yard rushing performance, with Michael Ford leading the way with 72 yards on 13 attempts. He and Spencer Ware each scored a pair of TDs on the ground and Alfred Blue cracked the scoring column with his first touchdown of the season, part of his game-high 15 carries for 53 yards.
“We threw the ball efficiently and caught it well,” Miles said in a briefer-than-usual postgame session. “We had control of the situation and were able to run the clock out. We were able to do what we needed to do.”
LSU’s 400-yard offensive night, divided neatly into 200 yards exactly in each half, overshadowed another clamp-down outing by the defense.
Northwestern State (1-1) managed only six first downs, 95 total yards and finished with -4 yards rushing on 27 attempts. That was with only one sack as the Demons simply had nowhere to run.
“We came out with the same attitude we had against Oregon – play strong and don’t give up any big plays,” safety Eric Reid said. “It all started with the d-line. We always give them credit. If they can knock back the offensive line like they do, then it makes it real easy as a secondary to get people covered.”
With the Tigers tempting him to throw underneath, Northwestern quarterback Brad Henderson hit 16-of-26 passes, but for only 74 yards.
The Demons’ longest pass play of the night was a 25-yard pickup on a fake-punt pass from backup QB Don Canyon to Justin Aldredge.
“We didn’t want them to ever get comfortable,” defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. “We came out and wanted to take away the run and see what they could do.”
Whatever momentum Northwestern State might’ve had after John Shaughnessy boomed a 44-yard field goal early in the second quarter, Brockers devoured with one hand.
After Ware crashed into the end zone from a yard out to finish off a 63-yard drive that boosted the LSU lead to 14-3, Henderson tried to dump a screen pass to the left side on third-and-12 from the Demons’ 18-yard-line.
Brockers jabbed his left hand out, snared the ball and fell to the ground with an interception, a play he called a game-changer.
“It’s always fun for a defensive linemen to get his mitts on the ball, so we were happy for him and that really fired us all up,” Reid said.
That included the offense, which settled into a crisper rhythm after the unlikely pick.
Ware bulled in for a 6-yard TD two plays after Brockers’ play and then after a missed field goal on the next series, the Tigers mowed through the Northwestern State defense for a 52-yard drive that ended right before halftime with Ford plugging into the end zone from 3 yards away for a 28-3 halftime lead.
LSU began the third quarter with a similar series – rolling 59 yards in five plays when Mettenberger entered and found the mark on all four passes for 44 yards before Ford glided in for a 7-yard score.
From there, the Tigers were content to grind out drives on the ground with 10- and 15-play scoring jaunts that gobbled up a combined 12:10 of the second half.
The final highlight of the night for the offense was Mettenberger’s perfectly thrown 19-yard fade pass to Boone for the final points.
Now the Tigers shift their attention to the SEC season and a road trip to Starkville, Miss., to face the 16th-ranked Bulldogs who fell at Auburn on Saturday, 41-34, when a run in the closing seconds came up inches short of the goal line.
“It’s going to be an exciting game this Thursday,” Miles said. “The idea that we change the schedule so drastically and yet play a very significant football game in an opponent’s stadium on a Thursday night. I look forward to it. I think the change will be good for us.”