A week after shackling Heisman Trophy contender Trent Richardson and the Alabama offense, the LSU defense lined up Saturday night against a bunch of guys with mostly nondescript press clippings and solid white uniforms.
For a while, though, the Tigers were getting worked over.
Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey did just enough damage between the tackles to keep LSU honest. Quarterback Kawaun Jakes kept hitting short passes to move the chains.
The Hilltoppers went to halftime with 140 yards of total offense and trailed by only a touchdown. They owned the ball for 20 minutes, 1 second and picked up 10 first downs in the first two quarters.
“Total lack of focus,” defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “We were not in there mentally like we needed to be. The way we prepared for Alabama, we need to prepare for the other teams.”
The Tigers started looking more like their usual selves eventually, holding WKU to 86 yards and five first downs in the second half. LSU improved to 10-0 for the first time since 1958 with a 42-9 victory.
“We weren’t executing our plays correctly in the first half,” safety Eric Reid said.
WKU hit LSU hardest with a 10-play, 65-yard first-quarter drive that mixed six runs with four passes and allowed the Hilltoppers to forge a 7-7 tie.
Jakes scrambled 13 yards for an early first down and later connected with tight ends Mitchell Henry and Jack Doyle for first-down completions. Keshawn Simpson scored on a fullback dive on first-and-goal at the 2.
By halftime, with the Tigers nursing a 14-7 cushion, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis had seen enough.
“He came in there fired up,” Reid said. “He told us we needed to do better.”
Over the final two quarters, WKU got its only points when LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson was called for intentional grounding from his own end zone, resulting in a safety.
Buoyed by Antonio Andrews’ 73-yard kickoff return, WKU had a prime chance to break through down only 21-7 midway through the third quarter. The Hilltoppers needed just 2 yards for a score and had three downs left to get it.
On second-and-goal, Kadeem Jones was stopped for a 1-yard gain to the 1. On third-and-goal, Jakes threw incomplete into the end zone.
On fourth-and-goal, Kevin Minter and Lamin Barrow combined to stop Jones for no gain.
“LSU’s always about keeping its tradition. When its defense gets in the trenches, it always comes out on top. We’ve always been one of those teams. When it gets down to the last little inch, we’re one of those teams that never lets them into the end zone,” Montgomery said.
Reserve linebacker Tahj Jones ended WKU’s next offensive possession when he intercepted a deflected pass, setting up LSU’s fourth touchdown.
Minter finished with a career-high 11 tackles, followed by Ryan Baker with nine.
“Everybody’s got to get their mind right going into next week’s game,” Montgomery said. “Focus on playing right and being dominant again.”