Bradley Dale Peveto, LSU’s normally jolly, talkative special teams coordinator, stood near the goal posts at the north end of Tiger Stadium and had trouble speaking.
Oh, yes. This was something special.
LSU’s special teams followed a bumbling performance at Florida last week with a stunning display Saturday night.
The group ignited a big early lead, masked the Tigers’ shoddy passing attack and willed LSU to a 41-3 thumping of Kentucky on Saturday night.
Punt return for a touchdown? Check.
Sizzling kickoff return across midfield? Yep.
Heck, LSU even recovered its own kickoff.
Throw in a pair of field goals, and Peveto’s crew put on a show for the announced 101,581 early-exiting fans on a breezy night in Baton Rouge.
Peveto, who spent last season as Kentucky’s special teams coach, became emotional in an on-field interview when speaking about his unit’s performance against his former team after such a struggle a week ago.
“What you have to do as a coach is point the finger at yourself first,” Peveto said, “and say, ‘Hey, this is my fault. We’re going to fix it, and here’s how we’re going to fix it.’ ”
The same unit that allowed a punt return for a touchdown, more than 160 return yards and missed an extra point last week had a banner day.
Tre’Davious White returned a punt 67 yards for a score, and he had two more lengthy returns to set up touchdowns as LSU bolted to a 17-0 first-quarter lead.
Terrence Magee had a game-opening 49-yard kickoff return, Colby Delhoussaye made field goals of 21 and 35 yards and Tigers defensive lineman Lewis Neal recovered a blooping kickoff.
“Coach P was stressing it in meetings and over the week. He wanted to get the swagger back,” said safety Jamal Adams, who laid the springing block on White’s return. “He wanted us to come with that fire that we used to in the beginning of the season. He was hurt by those two returns by (Florida return man Andre) Debose. We practiced hard and practiced long.”
It all shakes out to another confidence-boosting victory for a team that just three weeks ago lost by its largest margin in 15 years in a 41-7 beating at Auburn.
The Tigers (6-2, 2-2 Southeastern) have won two straight, reached bowl eligibility for a school-record 15th consecutive season and enter a key stretch with a load of momentum. LSU hosts two top-10 teams in its next two games — Ole Miss on Saturday and Alabama on Nov. 8.
“They are looking forward to this upcoming stretch of games, I promise you,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “This football team is coming together. … The timing is kind of right for that.”
Miles’ group has followed two duds — losses to Mississippi State and at Auburn — with feel-good wins.
They pulled off a dramatic road win at Florida before pounding a Kentucky team that had only lost in triple overtime against Florida. It was the second-worst beating the Wildcats have taken in 57 meetings with LSU.
LSU has re-established a ruthless rushing attack, and its defense was stiff for a second straight week.
Magee ran for 127 yards — he had 220 all-purpose yards — and the Tigers rolled up 303 rushing yards on the Wildcats (5-2, 2-2), who entered the game just outside the Top 25.
LSU’s defense held Kentucky to 217 yards, had two big fourth-down stops and forced a half-dozen three-and-outs against a squad that had scored 45 points three weeks ago in a win over South Carolina.
Quarterback Anthony Jennings captained a team that leaned heavily on the run. Jennings completed 7 of 14 passes for just 120 yards and continued to struggle with pocket awareness. But he found his favorite target — Travin Dural — for a 32-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and true freshman Brandon Harris replaced him late in a blowout.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis’ unit has allowed just 23 points and 524 yards in the past two games.
“The defense is playing the style of defense LSU is used to playing,” Miles said.
The spotlight Saturday, though, shined squarely on Peveto, a good ole boy known for his joke-cracking and back-slapping ways.
Peveto got much of the SEC Network’s off-the-field camera time. His special teams warranted it.
White had returns of 9, 17, 21 and 67 yards, the last for a crowd-rousing score to make it 17-0 with 5:47 left in the first quarter. A former Northwestern State head coach, Peveto raced onto the field in celebration as White ran into the end zone.
This all came a week after a special teams unit struggled in a 30-27 win at Florida. The Tigers, in that game, allowed a punt return for a touchdown, and LSU missed an extra point and gave up 169 return yards.
A week later, Peveto’s special teams unit fired out of the gate with Magee’s big return and seemed to never let up.
Everything went right for the group. They recovered a blooping kickoff just before half to set up another score. It was not meant to be an onside kick, Miles said, but the ball bounced over the second level of the return men, and Neal fell on the ball for another snazzy special teams play.
And the coverage units? They were stellar. Kentucky had one punt return for 1 yard, and the Wildcats returned three kickoffs for an average of 20 yards.
Peveto was the man of the hour. The country-talking Texas native sprinted across the field as the game ended to meet his former Kentucky players and assistants.
Dozens of players gave him hugs, and assistants embraced their ex-co-worker.
He did a number on them.
“A lot of those players are very dear to my heart,” Peveto said. “Any time you line up and play a place you just spent a year and were a part of the groundwork, it’s emotional and it was.”