Fans enjoyed a contested game for the first time this season after the Tigers were less than merciful against its first two foes. WIU forced a crucial first half fumble and took advantage of some miscues on special teams to trail only 13-0 at the half.
"That's as hard as anyone has ever played against us," LSU head coach Nick Saban said. "I told our team we won't play anyone that will want to beat us any worse than these guys wanted to. They wanted to prove they belong and they are representing everyone in Division I-AA."
Western Illinois did come out playing like a team with nothing to lose.
"I think it safe to say we had an easier preparation than they did," WIU head coach Don Patterson said. "It's easy for a I-AA team to be motivated to play a program as good as LSU. I really was proud of the way our guys played. I thought we played our guts out but I thought LSU matched our effort and a lot of intensity."
The Leathernecks (2-1) were able to get it as close as 13-7 when Terrance Hall hauled in a 3-yard toss from quarterback Russ Michna early in the third quarter. Utilizing a little trickery, the Leathernecks recovered an onside kick opening the second half. WIU went 47 yards on nine plays to close the gap to six.
However, the bid for the upset ended when the stars of LSU's offense seized control of the game.
All career highs, Mauck completed 23-of-33 passes for 305 yards with four touchdowns. He also opened the game with seven straight completions, which added to his 10 consecutive to close out the Arizona win, gave the junior signal caller 17 in a row, which tied a school record.
"I felt pretty good out there," Mauck said. "We were trying to do things to move the ball. For some reason, we just weren't being careful and hanging onto the ball."
Mauck has grown into the pocket passer most people, including Saban, expected.
"I think Matt Mauck played as fine a game as he can play since he's been our quarterback," Saban said. "He made some outstanding reads and some very good throws when things weren't going so well out there."
Clayton snared 11 passes for 162 yards, both of which are career records. The junior wideout did not finish the game retiring for the evening with a sprained ankle in the middle of the third quarter.
On its first offensive possession of the game, LSU marched 58 yards on 10 plays and appeared to seize the momentum when Clayton corralled a 10-yard scoring strike from Mauck. However, Ryan Gaudet deflated the Tigers sails a bit when he pulled the extra point wide.
A Joseph Addai fumble inside the 10 thwarted LSU's next scoring chance, disallowing the Tigers to take full command of the game. An action packed first half of play would not see another offensive score until Shyrone Carey bulled his way into the inside from a yard out. Carey finished the night with 124 yards on 21 carries giving LSU its first 100-yard rusher since Domanick Davis' 113-yard effort last season against South Carolina.
"Joe (Addai) was having a little trouble so they just called me and kept calling me and I was ready to step up and make plays for the team," Carey said.
Saban seemed pleased with Carey's ability to step in at tailback.
"Shyrone had as good a day as he's had since he's been a player here," Saban said. "He had over 100 yards rushing and Michael Clayton had over 150 yards receiving. That's the first time we've had a 100-yard rusher and a 150-yard receiver since probably the Sugar Bowl. But we need to get more players involved in what we are doing."
The mistake-riddled first half was far from uneventful.
LSU blocked a Western Illinois punt and field goal in the first half. Chad Lavalais batted down a WIU field goal offering while Travis Daniels got a paw on the Leatherneck punt. However, the Tigers had kicking woes of their own with a pair of botched field goal attempts. Plus, snapper Steve Damen sailed the pigskin over the head of punter Donnie Jones deep in LSU territory. No points would come from the Tiger blunder though as Lavalais recorded LSU's first blocked field goal since Arnold Miller knocked down a kick at Notre Dame in 1998.
A restless Tiger Stadium mob stayed in their seats to witness a second half in which LSU wore down an undermanned Western Illinois team. While the Leatherneck never gave up as Arizona did a week prior, fatigue did eventually set in.
"Absolutely depth," Western linebacker Lee Russell said. "LSU has people rotating in and we have people cramping up and getting injured because of the humidity. It is hard to constantly go to the deep route with them because of their speed."
The deep route is exactly where LSU went as Mauck tossed a trio of second half touchdowns, including two to sophomore Skyler Green. Mauck and Green hooked up on an 8-yard pitch and catch for a 19-7 LSU lead.
Mauck's two-point run put the Tigers on top 21-7 with 3:52 left in the third stanza.
"When Michael (Clayton) went down, somebody had to step up and make the plays," Green said. "I had more confidence coming into this game, just stepping up and being a player."
On LSU's next possession, Mauck wasted no time going to the air again. On first down from the Leatherneck's 40, again it was Green who ran under a 40-yard bomb for a 28-7 Tiger advantage.
"He laid it out there pretty good," Green said. "At first I thought I wasn't going to get to it, but I just turned on the speed and let it fall under my arms."
LSU slammed the door on WIU with one final touchdown, a 16-yard strike from Mauck to Devery Henderson. Facing a third and 13 from the Western 16, Mauck rolled right and hit Henderson at the right pylon of the south end zone capping a 13-play, 62-yard TD march.
In all, LSU racked up 457 yards of total offense, including 305 yards through the air. The Tigers have not amassed in excess of 300 yards passing in a game since Rohan Davey threw for 444 yards in the 2002 Sugar Bowl.
LSU dominated in almost every statistical category holding Western Illinois to just 12 first downs, compared to 31 by the Tiger offense. LSU's defense gave up just 208 net offensive yards to the Leathernecks. The Tigers were 6-of-9 on third down conversions and did not punt in the game.
While Clayton, Carey and Mauck stole the show on offensive, Henderson quietly amassed 65 yards on six catches. Green had 54 yards on three grabs and true freshman Craig Davis caught his first career pass, a nine-yard gainer late in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, Daniels, Lionel Turner and Lavalais led the Tiger stoppers with five tackles each. The LSU defense collected eight tackles for loss, including two sacks. Corey Webster picked off two passes and broke up another pair while true freshman LaRon Landry made an acrobatic interception late in the game.
"I think they have a chance to go in and have a really fine season because they do have a lot of good weapons to work with," Patterson said. "I wish them well. I hope they win the rest of them."