But, despite outgaining the Horned Frogs by 189 yards (448-259) and running 26 more plays than TCU (80-54), the effort from a young LSU team was far from perfect. The Tigers gave up a kickoff return for six in the second quarter to B.J. Catalon, who raced 100 yards from end zone to end zone, and also saw a QB-RB exchange from Zach Mettenberger to Alfred Blue go awry, resulting in a lost fumble at LSU's six yard line.
Following the season-opening victory, head coach Les Miles spoke to the "sloppy" nature of the game but also found time to heap praise on his improved offense and new coordinator Cam Cameron.
"I think it was a sloppy opener at times for us," said Miles. "Things that we could do to improve certainly would have made a very, very significant difference in this game. But, all in all, you open on the road against a very quality opponent, you put up 448 yards on them and you make the mistakes you make and get the opportunity to correct those mistakes and keep on.
"So I felt like Cam Cameron started his debut at LSU and did a very, very strong job. A couple of balls dropped that we would have liked to have back, certainly a fumble here or there, and a more distinctive attack on the ground, but we were much better on offense."
Chief among the LSU players who excelled on offense were Mettenberger and WR Jarvis Landry. The two connected eight times for 109 yards and a touchdown. Mettenberger's touch on deep balls and zing on timing routes (outs, slants) contributed to LSU going an absurd 13 for 19 on third down.
LSU's senior quarterback said after the game much of the credit is due to Cameron's plan for this 2013 Tiger offense. "Coach Cameron has done a great job with the offense, and he has a game plan to make sure that we get our playmakers the ball."
Aside from Landry, those playmakers versus TCU were Odell Beckham (five catches, 118 yards), Terrence Magee (13 carries, 95 yards, 2 TD) and Alfred Blue (19 carries, 89 yards).
The pair of LSU running backs addressed the media in the locker room postgame, giving their viewpoints on how the Tigers got going on the ground slightly better in the second half after a sluggish start (LSU ran for 89 yards and 3.7 ypc in the first half, 108 yards and 4.5 ypc in the second).
Blue's take on figuring out the stacked TCU box: "We had to make a couple of corrections in the run game, and after Coach Cam made a couple of corrections in the running game, it just started hitting. Everybody started settling down and we just started playing LSU football. I think they (TCU) were wearing down a little bit, but they were still playing good football out there. How we run the ball is dominant, and we rotate a lot of back in, and I think that ultimately wears down the defense."
Said Magee, a junior, on waiting his turn: "We have a great group of guys, and I just have to sit back and stay the course and keep my faith in God and eventually I knew my time would come."
While the offensive attack, especially through the air, was a big part of the story for LSU, defense was extremely solid for the Tigers considering how many players were stepping into starting or rotational roles for the first time Saturday night.
John Chavis' crew, once you take away the kickoff return for touchdown and gifted TD via the Blue fumble, conceded only 13 points and surrendered just 259 total yards. LSU was most notably tough against the pass, holding TCU to 15-of-28 passing for 145 yards and an interception by Jalen Mills (with no touchdowns).
Several of the Tigers' defenders were still sporting a chip on their shoulders after the final horn sounded, letting reporters know they've heard much of the rumblings during a long offseason.
"We wanted to come out and set the tone because people have been saying that it would be different since we lost eight people to the NFL Draft, that defense was going to be our weak point," DT Ego Ferguson explained. "I felt tonight wasn't our best shot, but we showed a lot. Only thing we can do is go up from right now – fix mistakes and come back stronger next game."
Ferguson (four tackles, one for loss, and one QB hurry) was part of an experienced defensive front that did very well against starting QB Casey Pachall but faltered at times once the athletic Trevone Boykin took over in the third quarter. In total LSU registered one sack, four tackles for loss, six pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
On the TCU side, head coach Gary Patterson offered a parting thought of his own in the aftermath of the Cowboys Classic, assuring that his boys belong.
"Well I don't think there's any doubt we can play with them. We got stronger in the fourth quarter. We can't make mistakes. I take pride in my team. I thought they played hard. Everybody who says we can't compete against the SEC is wrong."
TCU was indeed the team stockpiling momentum as the third quarter turned into the fourth, but all visions of a Horned Frog comeback shattered when Beckham authored a 75-yard kickoff return to put LSU in business with 7:24 left in the ballgame.
From that point, LSU came out of its Chick-fil-A reminiscent tailspin and began chopping the second leg out from underneath TCU.
THE GOOD NEWS
- It would be criminal to start this section with anyone other than Mettenberger. It would be an even bigger mistake to view Mett's 50-percent completion percentage and think he had an average game. LSU's senior quarterback was better than ever in the first half and played an all-around complete game. He threw the deep ball with his best touch and consistency to date; he eluded pressure in the pocket on multiple occasions and even scrambled for a first down once; he threw the ball away when it was necessary; he threw line-drive darts into Landry and Beckham on slants and outs/corners. Simply put, if a few drops and non-pass interference calls go the other way for LSU, tonight would've been a career game for Zach. As it was he threw for 251 yards and a touchdown without turning it over once.
- Three of LSU's offensive stars mentioned above – Beckham, Landry and Magee – also belong in this category. Of the trio, Magee's performance was the most necessary and probably unexpected. It's not surprising that Beckham can get deep or that Landry is a first-down machine, but the Tigers needed Magee and he responded, scoring twice, including once from 52 yards away early in the third quarter.
- K Colby Delahoussaye got off to an ideal start in his first game as LSU's starting field goal kicker. Dipping a toe in, the Tiger walkon was able to connect on tries of 23 and 28 yards in the game's opening eight minutes. He went on to make another at the halftime gun of 23 yards and also connected on all four of his extra point attempts. Great confidence booster to start the season for Delahoussaye, the only LSU player to attempt a field goal on the night.
- Defensively the biggest win was the fact that Chavis' ‘D' was only out there for 23 minutes, 59 seconds. Mills finished tied for the lead in tackles with five (along with Craig Loston and Jermauria Rasco) and had an interception. Jordan Allen technically only finished with one tackle, but he played a very nice first half, batting down a ball and really helping to reset and establish the line of scrimmage.
THE BAD NEWS
- Have to start this section off with the swoon LSU went into from the middle of the third quarter to the middle of the final stanza. It truly felt like so many of the games that have gone rotten on LSU during the Les Miles Era. The Tigers are plodding along, winning by 7-17 points, and then, all of a sudden, the air seems to come out of the balloon and one mistake precedes another with doom slowly showing its ugly face. Now, credit is due that the Tigers were able to stop TCU's momentum and finish this time around, but that lack of focus for a sizeable stretch of the game could cost LSU come SEC play.
- Despite an obvious effort to throw more downfield and get Beckham and Landry involved, LSU didn't complete a single pass to a tailback or tight end against TCU. Fullback Connor Neighbors did catch one ball for three yards. That's it. Even though some of LSU's playmakers were more involved tonight, not everybody was.
- There were a few defenders who, to me, didn't quite live up to their billing tonight. Middle linebacker Lamin Barrow would be one. The senior finished with just two tackles and a QB hurry. Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, despite totaling four tackles (one for loss), was not the force he's capable of being either. It appeared Ferguson had the stronger game of the two. Finally, outside linebacker Kwon Alexander, starting in the place of Tahj Jones (reported minor injury), accumulated only three tackles and was pretty non-existent. None of these three played horribly, but they'll have to show more for LSU to survive against some of the better offense the Tigers will face this season.
- Beckham definitely went to extremes tonight for LSU. The five catches and in particular the kickoff return were huge. But the egregious drop on a second-quarter Mettenberger beauty of a bomb and his refusal to fair catch a ball that ultimately landed at the one (and shortly resulted in the LSU fumble at the six) were costly. His upside is through the roof and Beckham is easily one of the team's most valuable assets, but OBJ is still seeking consistency.
- By my count seven true freshmen featured for LSU tonight. They were: QB Anthony Jennings, TE Desean Smith, FB Melvin Jones, OLB Kendell Beckwith, OLB Duke Riley, CB Tre'Davious White and DT Christian Lacouture. Smith was far and away the most utilized, playing early and often at tight end. Beckwith was also a regular pass-rusher with his hand on the ground while LaCouture saw two plays at DT in the second half. The rest, expect Jennings (who took one snap and ran a QB sneak), were special teams players.
- The nickel and dime packages really looked pretty good for LSU on Saturday night and were effective. Micah Eugene picked up where he left off in 2012 and is even better in coverage now while Dwayne Thomas was also in proper placement during his time in as the dime back.
- Gotta mention this: WR James Wright made a legitimate difference tonight on special teams, and it's commendable. Obviously no longer part of the starting mix at receiver, Wright stripped a TCU kick returner early in the first quarter and recovered the loose ball himself. That led to a quick and easy three points for the offense. For the night Wright finished with three tackles, all on special teams. That's a pretty impressive and eager showing for a guy who's fallen down the depth chart.
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