Just moments later junior defensive end Rahim Alem sacked Tulane quarterback Joe Kemp. Junior cornerback Chris Hawkins scooped up the subsequent fumble and returned it to give the Tigers a 21-3 lead that would not be challenged.
“We practice that if you come from the back side you hit that arm of the quarterback … tap on his elbow, anything,” Alem said. “I was looking at the ball and was crawling to get the ball, and I saw Chris pick it up. I didn’t hear any whistles so I knew something good was happening.”
The fortunate series of events offset what was an otherwise disconcerting performance from LSU. Coming off a 52-38 beating at the hands of Georgia, the Tigers showed many of the same inconsistencies which have marred the 2008 campaign.
“Our offense rushed the football and threw the football with balance for a point,” said LSU coach Les Miles. “But seemed to be plagued again by mistakes and things that we must correct before we play again … there were too many mistakes.”
Despite the touchdown strike to LaFell, Lee finished the night eight of 20 passing for 99 yards and accounted for Tulane’s only touchdown of the night in the form of a pick six, which he rifled into the arms of Tulane linebacker Travis Burks late in the 4th quarter.
“There’s some frustration with the fact that I think [Lee] will come of age quicker,” Miles said. “I expect him to come of age quicker. But I expect that it’ll come.”
The interception marked Lee’s 10th interception of the year, the fifth one that has been returned for a touchdown.
“That pass at the end that got intercepted is something I still need to work on,” Lee said. “I just got the breath knocked out of me. I hadn’t had the breath knocked out of me since second grade, so I just forgot how it felt.”
The only constant of the game (and perhaps the entire season) was the run game. Tailbacks Charles Scott, Keiland Williams, Richard Murphy, and even Stevan Ridley ground the Green Wave down with three rushing touchdowns and 236 combined yards on the night.
Scott opened the scoring with a seven-yard touchdown plunge, and his 114 rushing yards, all of which came in the first half, gave him 100 yards or more in six of LSU’s eight games this season.
“It’s always good to get the win whether it’s ugly or pretty,” Scott said. “I felt like I could have done a little bit more, but at the same time we didn’t need it because we kept the offense moving.”
The rest of the backfield took center stage in the second half. Williams picked up where Scott left off at halftime, rushing his way to a 59-yard night, with 54 of those coming in the 3rd quarter, along with a three-yard touchdown run which put the game officially out of reach.
Murphy added 57 of his own, appearing once again as the quarterback in offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s version of the Wildcat offense. Ridley scored the game’s final points in his most extensive appearance to date, rumbling for 51 yards and a touchdown on just five carries.
“When the passing game isn’t working, as a running back you’ve got to be the one that comes through for the offense,” Murphy said.
After the rough outings against Florida and Georgia, Hawkins’ touchdown return seemed to snap the Tigers’ defense out of a first-half funk. LSU came out of the tunnel after halftime and shut the Green Wave offense out, holding Tulane to just 56 second-half yards and no scores.
“Me personally I’ve seen that pass rush do what it did tonight,” Miles said. “They did not rush the football and to me that was a real plus.”
LSU returns to Tiger Stadium on Saturday for its third of five-straight home games. As if anyone needed any reminding, the Tigers will play host to former LSU coach Nick Saban and Alabama. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.
Saturday night marked the third time this season true freshman quarterback Jordan Jefferson has taken game snaps for the Tigers. Jefferson played one series, rushing several times for no gain and primarily handing off to Ridley. Tiger fans may be perplexed at Jefferson’s limited role in the offense, as Miles has alluded several times to increasing the young signal caller’s playing time.
“He’s going to play,” Miles said. “We wanted to get him a number of snaps and I’d have liked to thrown the football with him a little bit, but we just didn’t get around to it. We didn’t want to put him in early with the game still in question.”
Texas Tech’s thrilling last-second win against Texas on Saturday night will likely vault LSU’s next opponent, the Alabama Crimson Tide, into the No. 1 spot in college football’s polls.
“It’s going to be a low-scoring game,” Alem said. “It’s a big game for us because we’ve got to win this one. This is the biggest game of our season. [Alabama coach Nick Saban’s return to Tiger Stadium] gets the fans hyped so it’ll get me hyped.”
Senior linebacker Darry Beckwith said his defense is eager for yet another chance to salvage its reputation against such a prominent opponent.
“I know everyone doubts us,” Beckwith said. “They think it’s a big game and we’re going to crumble. I feel we can get it done … It’s going to be a big game. Ole Saint Nick is coming back. It’s going to be special.”
Several Tigers, including starting tailback Charles Scott starting tight end Richard Dickson, and starting strong safety Harry Coleman, left the game at different points with injuries.
Miles said none of the injuries were serious, and that Scott was held out of the second half as a precaution.
“I don’t know that anybody is seriously out with injury,” he said. “Guys that got nicked were held out with responsibility to next week.”