The Tigers went through their first scrimmage of pre-season, a 210-snap test – the first without one of the program's shining defensive stars.
On Friday, cornerback/punt returner Tyrann Mathieu was officially dismissed from the program after what sources said was at least a third failed drugged test.
Tigers coach Les Miles said that the scrimmage was what the team needed after a tumultuous and emotional Friday.
"We don't need open wounds when we go off to play," Miles said. "We need to heal and get it right and let's go play strong.
"I certainly recognize there were some emotional feelings in this building. I think they understand that they have to go on. … There was nobody in the room who was happy, including me. There's also an understanding that this team has gotta go on."
So the Tigers did, with a scrimmage broken down into 80 plays for the first teams, 80 for the second teams, 25 for the third teams and 25 devoted to special teams.
Sloppy at times – Miles mentioned several penalties and there was at least one turnover – but a good learning tool for a team with so many young players expected to contribute.
A key group of those young players were in the spotlight Saturday as the process to replace Mathieu began with true freshman Jalen Mills running with the first unit. Redshirt freshman Jalen Collins sat out the scrimmage with an undisclosed injury, as did both offensive starting tackles, Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst, receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Craig Loston.
"It's awfully important to the development of any team," Miles said of the scrimmage.
"It's a perfect way to correct your team and develop them. This film will be studied by the players and the coaches as we move forward."
|Jeremy Hill: Tops the LSU running backs with 71 yards|
That film should show a busy day for Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
Miles said the QB was 15-of-30 for 190 yards with a pair of touchdown passes – one for 55 yards to Odell Beckham Jr. and another to James Wright for a 31-yard scoring strike.
Backup quarterback Stephen Rivers was 6-for-10 for 100 yards and Rob Bolden hit on 4-of-8 throws for an undetermined yardage total.
As expected, the offensive rushing carries were well dispersed and the two backs who found the most success were freshman Jeremy Hill (9 for 71 yards) and Kenny Hilliard (8-31).
Beckham Jr. led all receivers with four catches for 101 yards, while Wright hauled in four passes for 57 yards and Shepard four for 16 yards.
"I enjoyed the rushers," Miles said. "I think Jeremy Hill made a couple of really nice moves and (Russell) Shepard took a couple of balls out of the backfield. We rushed the football pretty well. I thought we threw the ball better than we had (in previous practices). It was a good day, and a nice first scrimmage."
And it was the start of the healing process.
The Tigers had a practice after Friday's news, one that Mettenbeger said "might have been (LSU's) best of camp."
No argument from Miles.
"I felt like we had a really good practice in the p.m. (Friday), and I think that this was what this team pointed to from (Friday's) two practices," he said.
|Jalen Mills: Gets the nod with the first team with Jalen Collins out of action|
Saturday was a chance to start seeing what young players fit in Mathieu's spot, and how the defense will shake out without a key playmaker.
Mills and Collins are the top two candidates to take over at cornerback opposite Tharold Simon, who swiped a Mettenberger pass during the scrimmage.
When the Tigers got to packages with more of a focus on pass coverage, Miles said the options could include staying with a traditional look with three linebackers or adding an extra safety.
After mentioning that two young players were getting a shot as extra DB in nickel and dime packages, Miles declined to identify them and said the process could involve some mixing and matching.
"It's kind of an audition thing, but it's an ongoing piece," Miles said. "We might say ‘This guy is better in coverage and this guy is better coming off the edge.' "
One of the several players who will undoubtedly figure into the mix is Micah Eugene.
Already listed as the backup to Loston at strong safety, Eugene drew praise from Miles for his athleticism and fast-twitch body.
But Eugene won't be the only player who gets a shot.
"We have some safeties more than Micah that can cover and can be candidates to go in the game in several situations and have the ability to do both," Miles said.
Several media outlets reported Friday night and Saturday that Mathieu visited McNeese State, and Cowboys' coach Matt Viator confirmed that the former LSU star was in Lake Charles Friday night for a visit.
But there was no decision as of Saturday. Mathieu can transfer to an FBS program and sit out a year, with two left to play. Or he can opt to drop down a level to FCS or below and play right away.
As he indicated Friday, Miles will help however he can in the process.
"I am passively involved," Miles said. "I know what's going on but I am not directing in any way. … If needed, I'll maybe offer an opinion."