Like a pair of prize fighters, both LSU and Washington were out to gain respect on Saturday evening.
In one corner there was heavily favored LSU, and across the ring was an outmanned underdog in Washington.
The Huskies went toe to toe with the No. 9 ranked Tigers and even came out on top on one scorecard. However, LSU scored a decisive blow early in the fight that the Huskies could not overcome and opened the season with a less than inspiring 31-23 victory.
While Washington dropped its 15th straight game – dating back to 2007 – the Huskies and first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian earned the respect of LSU and the college football world with the manner in which they took it to the Tigers in every phase of the game.
Sure, Washington had the home field advantage and LSU had to travel 2,400-plus miles. The Tigers also had to deal with the two-hour time difference and 9:30 p.m. kickoff – at least according to their biological clocks – along with the fact that Washington’s players don’t have to balance school and football right now.
But was any of that enough to account for what took place in Husky Stadium? Very few would say yes.
Washington chalked up 478 total yards of offense against an LSU defense that was looking to recapture the luster it once had, and controlled the time of possession by nearly 14 minutes. LSU, meanwhile, netted only 321 yards against a Husky unit that returned nearly intact from last year’s group that finished a whopping 110th in the country.
The Tigers yielded 321 yards through the air and 157 on the ground which after one weekend of play puts them in the cellar of the SEC and only 12 spots higher from where Washington finished in 2008.
Of the 10 other conference members that have played thus far, only two other teams gave up more than 300 yards – Florida and Georgia. Most of the 323 yards that Florida allowed was against backups in its 62-3 rout of Charleston Southern, and the 307 yards that Georgia yielded to a high-powered Oklahoma State offense in its 24-10 loss were very impressive.
Washington quarterback Jake Locker definitely earned some respect with his performance as he accounted for 372 of the Huskies’ 478 yards. He completed 25-of-45 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns, and added 51 yards on 12 scampers.
Locker’s passing has improved drastically under Sarkisian, who spent the previous seven years at USC where he served as the Trojans’ quarterbacks coach. Give credit where credit is due as he is a good signal caller, and better than I gave him credit for. But before we declare Locker as a Heisman hopeful let’s see what he does in two weeks when he goes up against Sarkisian’s former team. After all, Troy’s Levi Brown torched LSU’s secondary for 316 yards last year then followed that up with 51 yards the following week against UL-Lafayette.
To his credit, Locker didn’t make very many mistakes, but one big blunder cost him dearly when Jacob Cutrera tipped a pass and then grabbed it and raced 29 yards for a touchdown. Aside from that, Locker played pitch and catch way too easily with receivers that had little problem in getting open.
One has to wonder what would have happened had Locker not made that mistake? Take those seven points off the board and add the three from UW kicker Erik Folk’s missed 42-yard field goal, and you have the recipe for a monumental upset that would have put BYU’s victory over Oklahoma on the national media’s back burner.
Give the Tigers credit for creating the turnover and doing something they saw opponents do all too frequently last year. But in the grand scheme of things, this was not the showing that Tiger fans envisioned for the opening act of first-year defensive coordinator John Chavis’ unit. And it certainly didn’t do anything to help the Tigers regain any respect they lost last year.
LSU struggled with getting pressure on Locker and had it not been for an intentional grounding with Drake Nevis all over him on the Huskies’ final dive, LSU would have come up with a goose egg in the sack column to go with the zero it notched in quarterback hurries.
It takes time for players to adjust to a new scheme so it’s not time to jump off the bandwagon by any means. In fact, one of the oldest clichés in football is that a team makes its most improvement from game one to game two.
There is no place for LSU’s defense to go but up, and with a Vanderbilt team that rolled up 620 yards in a 42-0 beating of Western Carolina, that rise needs to begin sooner rather than later.