SYRACUSE, N.Y. — After scuffling around the Carrier Dome for 2½ quarters against 24-point underdog Syracuse on Saturday, the LSU football team needed a big play in the worst way.
Cornerback/punt returner Tre’Davious White knew it. So did LSU equipment manager Greg Stringfellow, who told White so while helping him change his jersey on the Tigers’ sideline.
Leading just 10-3 at the time, both men figured their team needed some kind of pick-me-up as the Syracuse crowd urged their team on against eighth-ranked LSU.
“Greg said, ‘Hey ‘T,’ we need a big play from you,’ ” White noted after LSU’s hard-fought 34-24 victory.
“I told him we needed the ball back with a turnover or a big play,” Stringfellow said. “We needed something.
“When he went out for the punt return, he said, ‘I gotcha.’ ”
Minutes after a Trent Domingue field goal pushed the Tigers’ shaky 7-3 halftime lead back to seven points, which was followed by a three-and-out by the defense, White gave them what they needed.
He fielded a 54-yard Riley Dixon punt, made two quick moves up the middle and was gone for a 69-yard touchdown that temporarily quieted the crowd — with the exception of about 7,000 purple-and-gold clad fans.
The lightning-quick strike was White’s second punt return for a touchdown (he had a 67-yarder against Kentucky) since taking over the duties for Odell Beckham Jr. last fall.
“All I saw was a lot of green grass,” a smiling White said. “Those 10 guys in front of me blocked really well and put their bodies on the line for me. It was all on me to return the favor by getting into the end zone. I was fortunate enough to get those guys come through for me.
“It was big; it was a momentum-builder,” he added. “I felt it was something that our team definitely built on.”
The return gave the Tigers some momentum, which they turned into a 62-yard touchdown run by Leonard Fournette on their next offensive series and a 24-10 lead.
It also came after some gaffes in the kicking game in the first half, including White fielding a punt at the end of Syracuse’s first series at his 3-yard line.
“I think we were tightening the special teams up during that time, and White’s punt return certainly was the exclamation point to that,” LSU coach Les Miles said of the score that pushed the Tigers’ lead to 17-3 with 7:48 left in the third quarter.
Miles mildly let White know the error of his ways on his first return, which he managed to return to the LSU 9 — pinning his offense deep for its opening possession.
“That wasn’t a good call by me, and I put our offense in a terrible position,” he said. “But that’s on me. I just told coach Miles that I was going to get it back and I was going to make a punt return for the team.
“I have the freedom to catch it (inside the 10), but that was one I wasn’t really proud of. It’s something I have to judge on my own. This year, I feel I’ve done a great job with it, but obviously, that one wasn’t great.”
The next returnable one he handled certainly was.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.