Tiger Stadium was literally sparkling.
For some reason during the third quarter, thousands of people broke out their cell phones and started flashing the lights as LSU drove for a touchdown. It was the 21st-century version of a concert crowd flicking its lighters but without the risk of secondary smoke — of one variety or another.
After the most tumultuous week in years for LSU’s flagship program, football at Tiger Stadium was fun again. And the epicenter of it all was a deep-voiced, barrel-chested Cajun who, when handed the interim coaching job after Les Miles’ firing Sunday, vowed to flip the script of this suddenly shaken team.
Ed Orgeron, consider the script successfully flipped.
So much about LSU football was different Saturday against Missouri, it almost seemed like the football gods and Mother Nature conspired to emphasize the point.
The weather was cooler.
The plague of this year's incessant rain wasn’t even a threat. “Chance of rain ... never!” actually had some teeth to it on a Chamber of Commerce day.
Tiger Stadium was fuller and livelier and, as mentioned above, more sparkly, though still not a packed house.
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"The whole week you could feel the state was on fire," Orgeron said afterward, freshly doused with Powerade by his players but obviously pleased as punch. "This is Tiger Stadium. This is what it's supposed to be."
LSU, a team that played its first four games like a light bulb with the dimmer switch turned low, cranked up the wattage in its first game without Miles in 12 years.
With some of the biggest names in college football coaching being volleyed across the net for this, one of college football’s biggest jobs, athletic director Joe Alleva uttered a brief sentence Monday that candidates, fans and media should bear in mind.
He said these eight remaining regular-season games would be an “audition” for Orgeron.
Coach O brought the O.
It’s hard to imagine an audition going any better. It was as if the understudy in a long-running Broadway hit had given an instantly Tony Award-worthy performance.
Like a candidate on the campaign trail, which in effect he is, Orgeron promised change. Unlike most candidates, he delivered. LSU threw more, both deep and to the tight ends, with a double-stacked four-receiver wrinkle thrown in. A lot of it was banging away with the long artillery without actually hitting anything meaningful, but the point is, the Tigers were taking their shots.
Subsequently, LSU had Missouri guessing a bit, much to the credit of its Leonard Fournette-less running game. Pushed out of the box and not exactly seeing the stubborn run-between-the-tackles team LSU has been, Mizzou was rocked on its heels.
That opened up huge gashes for Derrius Guice and an until-Saturday-hardly-used Darrel Williams. Both turned in 100-yard games (Guice 163, Williams 130) as LSU rushed for 418 yards while piling up 634 total, a school record for yards in a Southeastern Conference game.
Could a Fournette-fueled LSU running game have been any more productive?
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Defensively, LSU held down a Mizzou attack that led the SEC in total offense and ranked second in scoring, though given its schedule some of those stats made the visitors a paper Tiger. Drew Lock, the SEC’s top passer, was only sacked once, but LSU harassed him into many an off-target throw while the secondary coverage was sticky.
"They really handed it to us in every area," Missouri coach Barry Odom said glumly, "on offense, defense and kicking.
"Credit to them; they did a great job."
Some things still weren't great. Cameron Gamble still kicked off out of bounds to open the game. LSU still had to burn a timeout in the first half with the play clock running down. And, most significantly, there were still plenty of runs out of the Power I formation.