LSU football coach Ed Orgeron has said he isn’t afraid to play freshmen.
In his first season opener as the Tigers head coach Saturday night, Orgeron proved that he’s a man of his word — especially when it came to his defense.
Orgeron and second-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda rolled out three true freshman and a redshirt freshman for the opening play against BYU in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and all four made an impact in LSU’s 27-0 shutout.
With cornerback Kary Vincent coming in to play the nickel on the third play, LSU essentially had four true freshmen starters on the field on BYU’s first series.
Along with Vincent, free safety Grant Delpit, inside linebacker Tyler Taylor, outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson and Vincent all made an immediate impact from the opening whistle and helped the Tigers dominate the Cougars.
Delpit started ahead of senior Ed Paris, while Taylor got the nod instead of senior Donnie Alexander, who didn’t make the trip.
Chaisson started in place of preseason All-American Arden Key, who is still recovering from shoulder surgery, and redshirt freshman cornerback Greedy Williams started for Kevin Toliver, who also didn’t make the trip.
Together, they set the tone early in LSU’s shutout of BYU, which never crossed midfield all night.
“We knew they were going to play and I thought they were going to play well,” Orgeron said. “They answered the bell.”
“We were expecting a lot from them because we’ve seen them in (preseason) camp,” senior defensive end Christian LaCouture said. “Young guys play big roles here.”
The Cougars managed a measly 97 total yards — with minus-5 yards rushing — and had just six first downs in the contest. The rushing total was the fewest LSU allowed since Ole Miss netted minus-50, a school record for the Tigers, on Oct. 30, 1982, in Tiger Stadium.
LSU lost seven defensive starters from last season’s team.
BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum, who completed 12 of 24 passes for 102 yards, was also sacked three times and the Cougars averaged 2.6 yards per play on 38 snaps. Their longest play from scrimmage was a 17-yard pass from Mangum to tight end Matt Bushman.
Delpit got it started early, coming up in run support and holding running back Squally Canada to a 1-yard gain on BYU’s first play from scrimmage before Taylor stopped Kavika Fonua cold for no gain on second down.
Then, Vincent made the tackle on a 13-yard pass from Mangum to Micah Simon, even though he managed a first down before Delpit stopped Talon Shumway for a 1-yard gain on a pass from Mangum.
“They set the tone, they came ready to play,” LSU defensive end Rashard Lawrence said.
Chaisson then dropped Aleva Hifo after a short gain before Mangum was penalized for intentional grounding when pressured by senior Corey Thompson — ending the Cougars’ first series.
That’s five plays and five tackles by freshmen to start the game and season.
“Tyler Taylor, No. 24, was all over the field … K’Lavon Chaisson was all over the field,” Orgeron said. “Again, we believe in this freshman class.”
After LSU drove 66 yards to Derrius Guice’s 4-yard touchdown run on the Tigers’ second offensive possession, Williams got in on the act.
Williams played the ball perfectly when Mangum tried to hit wide receiver Beau Tanner on a go route down the right sideline on the first play after Guice’s score.
But Williams came down with the jump ball at the LSU 35, setting up the LSU offense that pounded out 303 yards on the ground and had 479 total yards, once again.
“You see a freshman going in there and making a pick right off the bat,” LaCouture said of Williams. “It’s a huge momentum shift and a lot of these guys are doing that. So we expect it from them.”
Five plays after Williams’ interception, Guice had the second of his two touchdowns, which was set up on a 52-yard throw from quarterback Danny Etling to DJ Chark to the BYU 2, and LSU.
By then, thanks to its stout defense, LSU was well on its way to an easy victory — with the help of a lot of youngsters.
A total of 25 players got on the field for the first time for LSU: 17 true freshmen and eight redshirt freshmen.
“We’ve been telling those guys from the first preseason game (scrimmage), and it starts with Coach O, he tells them they have to play,” a beaming Lawrence said of their newbies. “From Day One, freshman play here. That’s what we do at LSU.”