What kind of game was it Saturday night between LSU and Chattanooga?
It was one of brilliant plays, like DJ Chark weaving through the Baton Rouge rush-hour traffic to score on a 65-yard punt return. Freshman Kary Vincent coming up big on a redirect like a hockey forward with a scintillating diving interception. And Danny Etling going all Drew Brees on the Mocs, laying one deep pass in his receivers’ hands after another.
Danny Etling’s first fake handoff was good.
It was also one of an appalling pile of mistakes, the kind you hope to not be making after the much-celebrated improvement that’s supposed to take place between Week 1 and Week 2. There were penalties aplenty, missed kicks, and one botched blocking assignment near the Chattanooga goal line that bottled up Derrius Guice off left tackle had a furious Ed Orgeron breaking his headset in frustration.
“Just really sloppy,” a still steamy Coach O told LSU radio’s Gordy Rush, as he headed to the locker room to launch some colorfully idiomatic South Louisiana metaphors at his players. “Punt return called back. Holding. I’ve got to get them prepared to play. We’ve got to get them going.”
LSU was overwhelmingly more talented than the first two teams it played. Mike VII is but a cub, but he could have told you that, too. The issue for the Tigers has been the self-inflicted wounds, namely in penalties. LSU has been flagged 21 times combined against BYU and Chattanooga, enough yellow hankies that if tied end to end they’d stretch from Tiger Stadium to Ruby Falls in Chattanooga (If you haven’t been, it’s breathtaking).
You certainly can’t afford to have said penalties take one of your touchdowns (a Chark punt return) off the scoreboard and another that gave the Mocs a chance to kick an untimed field goal at the end of the first half.
LSU’s wide receivers didn’t have much experience coming into this season.
The Tigers got going in the second half. They cut down on momentum-killing, score-poaching penalties, committing only one over the final 30 minutes. They did what good teams are supposed to do in these mismatches, pumping in a couple of quick touchdowns to expand a 28-3 halftime lead into a 42-3 advantage en route to a 45-10 victory.
LSU also kept the turnovers at zero (the Tigers are plus-3 in that department after two games), an accomplishment considering they spent the second half emptying the bench. It seemed most everyone except quarterback Justin Fields, the nation’s No. 1-ranked prospect for 2018 in for an official visit, got to take a few snaps.
“Got after their butts,” Orgeron said. “We told them it was going to be a battle. They may or may not have believed it, but they believed it after those first two quarters.”
These Power Five versus FCS games are all small reward, big risk, and rarely if ever inspire teams or their fans to show up. Tiger Stadium was, predictably, about three-fourths full, on as nice a Saturday as you can hope for here in early September, and that may have contributed to LSU giving an uninspired, paint-by-numbers effort to start.
Ultimately, LSU got out of this game what it came for: victory, with apparently little if any of the serious injuries the depth-challenged Tigers could ill afford to have. But the trend of better execution that LSU rode through the second half better continue to be a ride up the Incline Railroad when LSU opens Southeastern Conference play with a dangerous game at Mississippi State. Those Bulldogs on Saturday put the hammer to the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in Ruston, 57-21.