A shutout pitched by LSU’s defense in a 56-point drubbing of Sam Houston State in the Tigers’ home opener a week ago may have been overshadowed at least a little by the offense and a group of talented freshmen who combined for four touchdowns.
On Saturday night, the defense made sure to grab its fair share of headlines.
No. 10 LSU dominated from start to finish on defense while the offense struggled some early with its consistency in a 31-0 blanking of Louisiana-Monroe in Tiger Stadium.
Freshmen Darrel Williams and Leonard Fournette combined for three rushing touchdowns, senior Kenny Hilliard added another and Colby Delahoussaye had a 21-yard field goal to account for the Tigers’ scoring in a game that was much closer than most anticipated — especially in the first half.
It may have been even closer if not for LSU’s defense. It completely smothered a ULM offense that a week earlier piled up 534 total yards in a 38-31 victory against Idaho and averaged 443.0 yards for its first 2-0 start since 1993.
In doing so, LSU (3-0) notched back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1985, when it beat Kentucky (10-0) at home and Ole Miss (14-0) on the road. The two home shutouts in a row hadn’t happened for the Tigers since 1941.
The Tigers held the Warhawks to 93 total yards — 16 rushing and 77 passing — and forced 10 punts on 12 possessions. LSU, which was playing without injured starting linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lamar Louis, also came up with a fumble recovery with 3:47 to play.
“It’s not that,” cornerback Tre’Davious White said of the defense feeling slighted after the easy victory over Sam Houston. “We’re just going out and executing the game plan the way the coaches want us to. It’s paying off for us.”
ULM, which finished with 16 yards on 18 attempts, had a long run of 6 yards from Centarius Donald, who rushed for 100-plus yards in each of the first two games. The Warhawks’ longest pass play went for 12 yards as Pete Thomas completed 16 of 30 passes for 77 yards with one sack.
“Offensively, we were just bad,” ULM coach Todd Berry said. “I’ve been doing this a long time, been around a lot of offensive football, (and) that’s about as bad as it gets.”
The only other ULM series that didn’t result in a punt came at the end of a first half that saw LSU take a 10-0 lead to the locker room.
The Warhawks crossed midfield just once, on a 10-yard pass from Thomas to Rashon Ceaser to the Tigers’ 45 with 8:39 left in the second quarter but had to punt three plays later. They converted 4 of 14 third-down opportunities and had just six first downs.
The sterling performance continued an impressive stretch for LSU’s defense.
Since allowing a touchdown to start the second half of the season opener against Wisconsin on Aug. 30 in Houston, a game the Tigers rallied to win 28-24, the defense has gone 31 possessions and nine-plus quarters without giving up a point — a span covering 147 minutes, 24 seconds of clock time.
In that time, LSU has outscored the opposition 108-0.
“I feel like Chief (defensive coordinator John Chavis) is opening up the playbook a little with us,” middle linebacker D.J. Welter said. “I feel the defense is flying around and making plays. Getting off the field on third down, when we do that, it gives a lot of momentum to the whole team — not just the defense. It’s keeping us fresh when we can get off on third down after shutting down what the opposing offense is doing. It’s putting the ball in our court.”
While LSU started slowly on offense Saturday, it wasn’t all defense. Delahoussaye kicked a 21-yard field goal with 3:20 to play in the first quarter after the Tigers started the game with a pair of three-and-outs and then had a promising drive stall at the Warhawks’ 5.
On their next possession, Williams broke off a 22-yard touchdown run at the 13:11 mark of the second period for a 10-0 lead.
“Offensively, I thought we were imperfect,” coach Les Miles said after the Tigers finished with 372 total yards. “We knew (ULM) was going to gamble, align unorthodox at times and give us problems. We were patient; we ran the football and did the things we needed to do.”
LSU’s offense seemed to come out with more energy in the second half after the defense had a stop on the Warhawks’ first possession of the third quarter, which ended when defensive end Jermauria Rasco dropped Thomas for a 5-yard loss. Then, the offense put the ball in the end zone on its next three possessions to create a little breathing room.
Williams scored his second touchdown of the evening on a 1-yard run midway through the third period after Anthony Jennings, who was 11-of-18 for 139 yards with an interception, threw a 32-yard pass to Travin Dural.
After another three-and-out for ULM and an 8-yard punt by Justin Manton, LSU needed to go only 34 yards for its next score — a 24-yard burst by Fournette with 3:26 to go in the third.
Another quick stop by the Tigers defense set up the offense for its final score of the evening as Hilliard capped a 58-yard drive with a 4-yard TD run with 12:19 left in the contest.
LSU piled up 219 rushing yards with Fournette leading the way with 52 yards on 10 attempts. Hilliard and Terrence Magee added 50 and 43 yards, while Williams had 37 on just seven carries.
“We continued doing what we do best, and that’s running the ball,” Jennings said. “That obviously wore them out in the second half. We just kept pounding them with the great backs we have and our great offensive line. We had confidence in what we were doing.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.