So much has changed for LSU football in the past few months.
A new head coach was hired, and four new assistants are on staff that weren't at this time last season. A new offensive coordinator was plucked from Pittsburgh to overhaul what many believe was an archaic scheme.
A whopping 10 players transferred, including the former starting quarterback and starting interior offensive lineman. Offseason workouts were revitalized, and the program posted new signage and, even, logos throughout the football complex.
Heck, the school even got a new mascot: Mike VII.
What didn’t change in this, Chapter 1 of the Ed Orgeron Era: LSU bludgeoning a nonconference foe with a stifling defense and run-pounding, ball-hogging offense.
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The Tigers walloped BYU 27-0 in front of an announced, mostly purple-clad 53,826 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, routing the Cougars in a game relocated from flood-ravaged Houston.
They opened this new era with some oh-so familiar results — a victory in a non-conference regular season game (a 55th in the last 56 tries), gobs of rushing yards (294 to be exact) and a suffocating defensive effort (BYU, for instance, did not cross midfield).
The Tigers ran the ball 57 times.
"We try to be 50-50 (run-pass), but it’s one of those nights we were going to be physical and take what they give us," Orgeron said. "We felt like they were giving us the run. We wanted to out-physical them."
Orgeron’s crew did it despite some hurdles. The team left 13 scholarship players back in Baton Rouge for unspecified reasons, including starting cornerback Kevin Toliver and starting linebacker Donnie Alexander. They played, too, without their most decorated defensive player, Arden Key, out recovering from shoulder surgery.
LSU lost seven defensive starters from last season’s team.
They needed to start four players on defense – three true freshmen and a redshirt freshman – who had never played in a college game. And then there’s this: They were breaking in that brand, spanking new offense, pulling the shroud off of Matt Canada’s spread scheme.
The numbers were gaudy.
More than 450 total yards, a quarterback, Danny Etling, who completed 14 of his 17 attempts for 173 yards and a pair of running backs, Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams, who combined for 212 yards rushing.
"Like we say, we’re going to do whatever the defense gives us and they were trying to play soft and daring us to run the ball and we did it," Etling said. "We’re going to establish the run and be a team that doesn’t back down from a challenge from anybody. That’s what they were giving us tonight. That’s what we did."
They did it all in a unique season-opening setting.
Officials announced the game’s relocation Monday afternoon, as Hurricane Harvey submerged much of Houston in water. LSU sold out its allotment, game officials said, in about three hours Wednesday. The game drew more than 53,000 fans despite organizers selling tickets for less than four full days.
The mostly purple-and-gold clad patrons filled the bottom two bowls and about half of the large upper level swath of seats.
They got to see an offense that, despite looking different — all those crazy shifts, unbalanced lines and pre-snap motions — produced similar statistics to the previous one. They hogged the ball and pounded the run.
LSU possessed the ball for 22 minutes of the 30-minute first half, and the Tigers ran the ball on 27 of their 37 first-half plays, taking command with a quick 14-0 lead.
The design was clear: Get Guice the ball.
The amount of carries even surprised him. He noticed his 20 carries at halftime and reacted with a "Daaaaaamn," he said Saturday night.
"That’s LSU football. We run the ball, got to set the tone," Guice said. "Everybody knows we’re going to run the ball. It’s going to happen."
The Baton Rouge native touched the ball on 21 of LSU’s first 31 plays. He hit the 50-yard mark on LSU’s second drive, as the Tigers leaned on their star junior to cap a mysterious week with him.
Guice missed practice all last week with an apparent dental issue (wisdom teeth removal, according to a tweet from freshman running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire). Orgeron said Monday that his starting running back wasn’t quite 100 percent. The coach finally announced Wednesday night that the running back was cleared to play.
So many others were not cleared.
Toliver and Alexander were two of 13 scholarship players who did not make the trip to New Orleans, many of them potentially suspended in some way. Orgeron said earlier this week that he would not announce suspensions, but suggested there were several.
Those players’ statuses for next week’s game against UT-Chattanooga are unclear.
"We’ll see," Orgeron said when asked about those players. "We’re going to have a lot of guys back."
What is clear: Despite the overhauled offense, LSU still plans on pounding the ball with its all-star back, something Orgeron and offensive coordinator Canada insisted on over the offseason that it would.
Oh, but they threw it around, too — and successfully.
Etling completed nine of his first 10 attempts, finding mostly wide open receivers sprinkled around the field. He connected with DJ Chark for 52 yards to set up LSU’s second touchdown and found Russell Gage for 32 yards to set up a field goal and a 17-0 third-quarter lead.
The defense stood tall despite those rookies.
LSU started three true freshmen, a fact the school believes might be the most ever on one side of the ball. Edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, safety Grant Delpit and inside linebacker Tyler Taylor made their presence felt early. A freshman recorded a tackle on each of LSU’s first five plays.
Another true freshman played in LSU’s five-defensive back set, Houston native Kary Vincent, and Greedy Williams, a redshirt freshman, started in place of Toliver. He picked off a pass in the second quarter, a beautiful leaping interception along the sideline.
"They set the tone," defensive end Rashard Lawence said. "Taylor made one of the big plays at the beginning. Delpit played well, Vincent. A lot of guys making some big-time plays."
BYU's negative 5 rushing yards Saturday is the fewest by an LSU opponent since 1982.
Said Guice: "Had a lot of guys missing and defense came ready. A lot of freshmen playing and those guys stepped up."
The young guys swarmed the Cougars, holding them to 97 yards. Dave Aranda's unit looked just as stout as the one in 2016 that led the nation in touchdowns allowed. He did it without a whopping seven starters from last season’s team. And, oh yeah, those freshmen.
Meanwhile, Guice was his old self, too, a bruising runner with breakaway speed. He scored touchdowns from 4 yards and 1 yard in the first half and finished with 120 yards on 27 carries.
The negatives? There were some, of course, in this new spread scheme. They all happened, it seemed, at the most important part of the field. In its first six trips into the red zone, LSU scored two touchdowns. The Tigers were stuffed on a fourth-down attempt from the 1, walk-on Jack Gonsoulin missed a 34-yard field goal and made kicks from 29 and 23 yards.
"We're going to get better in the red zone," Orgeron said. "Should have made a couple of more touchdowns in the red zone. We know that. We're going to fix it."