STARKVILLE, Miss. — If LSU’s 21-19 win at Mississippi State on Saturday night is any indication, two of the most heated position battles during preseason camp have been settled.
One was obvious from the first snap. The other took about a half to become clear.
But a pair of true freshmen left their marks on the Tigers’ thrilling Southeastern Conference win.
Cornerback Kevin Toliver and guard Maea Teuhema, players whom coaches and teammates frequently praised during the preseason, outplayed their inexperience in their first college game.
Toliver, who was competing with sophomore Ed Paris for a starting cornerback spot, lined up with the first team defense in the nickel package and played the entire game. He recorded six solo tackles (seven total) and one pass breakup.
Teuhema did not start, but LSU coach Les Miles said before the no-contest against McNeese State last weekend that he planned to rotate the freshman in at left guard. He played sparingly in the first half, shifting redshirt freshman Will Clapp over to the right side in place of junior Josh Boutte. But in the second half, it was all Teuhema.
He pulled from left guard and was a lead blocker on several of sophomore running back Leonard Fournette’s big runs, most notably his 18-yard touchdown in the third quarter that put LSU ahead for good. Teuhema played the entire second half, which Miles said was a matter of “getting the right guys on the field.”
“I think we’ll be fine there,” Miles said. “Boutte was substituted for. No injury. We had to get him coming because he’s a dominant player, too. He needs a little seasoning and a little coaching.”
‘These damn penalties’
LSU didn’t break too many big plays Saturday. But when it did, they usually didn’t count.
Penalties negated four plays of 15 yards or more, two of which were touchdowns. Overall, the team committed nine penalties for 95 yards.
“There’s gonna be so much to correct on that film, it’s gonna be ridiculous,” Miles said. “Should we have left the 14 points on the board, certainly we could have been in a different position.”
LSU’s first major infraction came on its second possession. Sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris found junior receiver Travin Dural wide open for a 37-yard touchdown, but a holding call on Boutte brought the play back.
Dural had another touchdown called back in the second quarter. He took an end-around for an 89-yard score, but another holding infraction wiped out the play. Miles said he thought the block was legal and “dominant.”
Another crucial penalty came about halfway through the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs had narrowed the deficit to 21-13 minutes earlier, and LSU needed a long drive and a score to give its defense a rest and put the game out of reach. The Tigers seemed poised for just that after picking up two first downs, and then sophomore running back Darrel Williams rumbled into MSU’s red zone on a 30-yard gain.
But another holding infraction negated the play and forced LSU to punt three plays later. The Bulldogs marched down the field and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Sophomore receiver Malachi Dupre called the number and significance of penalties “inexcusable.”
“Penalties hurt us all night,” Dupre said. “We’ve gotta get to work to make sure we don’t have as many as we had to tonight. (Travin) had two nice touchdowns called back. I know he wanted those. He worked hard, and unfortunately they got called back. But we’ll get it together.”
Icing on the cake
When MSU senior kicker Devon Bell lined up for the potential winning field goal, most Tigers couldn’t watch. Miles, on the other hand, observed intently.
The coach used both of his remaining timeouts to ice Bell, who lined up for 52-yard field goal with only 3 seconds left. Miles waited until the last possible moment to call the final timeout, granting Bell a de facto practice kick that missed wide left.
“The first time I froze him, I didn’t wait until he told the center, ‘Look at the holder,’ ” Miles said. “So then I waited longer for the next one. I waited longer, and he misses.”
Miles offered a golf analogy to explain his logic in icing the kicker.
“I’m not clairvoyant,” he said. “But the reality of it is — it’s like if you were to tee up a drive because it’s not a putt, it’s a drive. If you were to sit there and go, ‘OK, I have to hit it in that area over there.’ You can’t hit it to the right or left. In any event, hitting three of them is a lot harder than hitting one of them.”
Miles’ strategy worked out just fine: Bell’s kick that counted fell short of the crossbar and to the right.
LSU notched its 13th consecutive season-opening win, helping the Tigers tie Texas Tech for the sixth-longest current streak in the nation.
Florida took over the top spot with 26 season-opening wins in a row after Nebraska, which won its opener for 29 consecutive seasons, fell to BYU last week.