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LSU LSU wide receiver D.J. Chark (7) takes off as Brigham Young defensive back Micah Hannemann (7) and Brigham Young linebacker Butch Pau'u (38) give chase during the first half at LSU's football season opener against Brigham Young University Saturday Sept. 2, 2017, in New Orleans, La..

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

LSU’s defenders noticed it as early as the second quarter.

Players realized then that they were holding BYU to under 50 yards of offense. If the Tigers could hold the Cougars to less than 50 yards at halftime, they could hold them to less than 100 for the game, right?

So, the goal was set.

“We got to the second quarter and were looking at the stats and we’re like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a real shot of doing that,’ ” defensive end Christian LaCouture said. “We expect to do that, but you don’t know. You don’t know in the game. You could have a great performance and still (give up) 200.

“We saw in the fourth quarter and it was like 97 yards. We were like, ‘No, we’re staying in, got to keep going.’”

For the most part, the defensive starters completed LSU’s romping 27-0 season-opening win over BYU, and they accomplished that mid-game goal: BYU finished with 97 total yards, the fewest yards given up by the Tigers since a 2014 game against Louisiana-Monroe.

They held BYU to negative 5 yards rushing, the lowest by an LSU defense in a game since 1982, and the Cougars did not cross midfield. They did all of it despite missing three defensive starters (DE/OLB Arden Key, ILB Donnie Alexander and CB Kevin Toliver) and starting three true freshmen (DE/OLB K’Lavon Chaisson, S Grant Delpit, ILB Tyler Taylor).

Couple that with the departures from last season: LSU lost seven starters, including two first-round NFL draft picks.

“Lost a lot of guys last year to the NFL. We had to step up,” said LaCouture, who played in his first game since 2015 after missing last season with a knee injury. “I had to go in there — didn’t play last year — and make sure I was ready to go. A lot of guys have stepped up, and they understand their role. They want to do great things.”

BYU's longest rush was 6 yards. The Tigers haven’t held a team to a single-play run that low since November of 1976 against Tulane. The Cougars’ longest play from scrimmage went for 13.

Even offensive players were somewhat stunned by the stats.

“We kept them to negative rushing yards,” running back Derrius Guice said afterward. “Had a lot of guys missing and defense came ready.”

Coach Ed Orgeron wasn’t surprised. He saw it coming.

“When you’re in that defensive staff room with Dave Aranda, you come in and he has this little notebook and has about 30 pages of notes every day and he’s fixing stuff and diagramming stuff and game-planning practice,” Orgeron said. “You see (defensive line coach) Pete Jenkins hitting the sled and (defensive backs coach) Corey Raymond teaching and you see the type of athletes, we have. It just looked like it’s all coming together.”

Chark in for Jackson

On Monday, Orgeron announced Donte Jackson would be the Tigers’ punt return specialist for the season opener, maybe Derrick Dillon if something changed.

But come Saturday, neither Jackson nor Dillon was sent deep.

Wide receiver DJ Chark handled all punt duties against BYU, the first time in his college career he’s done so.

Chark returned three of BYU punter Jonny Linehan’s seven punts on Saturday for a total of 26 yards worth of returns, which included a long of 32 yards in the third quarter. He also lost seven yards on one return when he fielded a bouncing punt and tried to create a big play but was swallowed by defenders soon after.

Chark said he only found out about his newfound role on Thursday of this week but did not give a reason as to why the switch was made to begin with.

"Out of nowhere they said, ‘You’re going to be the punt returner,’” Chark said. “I was like, I don’t know if I really want to do punt return. College punters, they can really punt. But the coaches just believed in me and told me to keep working on it. This is my first time I’m actually really returning punts, but I feel like I’m going to get the hang of it even better and I’m really excited about punt return.”

Jackson, who claims to be one of the fastest men in college football, was expected to handle punt return duties in the wake of Tre’Davious White’s departure from the program at the end of last season.

Follow Mike Gegenheimer on Twitter, @Mike_Gegs.