The first possession for the Southern Miss offense in Saturday night’s game with LSU left a bad taste in the mouths of many Tigers defenders — not to mention interim coach Ed Orgeron.
Make that a lot of LSU defenders.
Stung early by Southern Miss’ 15-play, 75-yard drive to a touchdown the first time it had the ball, eating up more than eight minutes in the process, the LSU defense was doggedly determined to not let it happen again.
The Tigers didn’t.
Southern Miss gained just 75 yards on its next 22 first-half snaps — part of a big statement made by the defense in LSU’s 45-10 blowout in Tiger Stadium.
Orgeron cut to the chase quick in his postgame comments, saying Southern Miss punched the LSU defense in the mouth in marching to a 7-0 lead.
“We made some adjustments offensively and defensively in the second half,” Orgeron said. “Give Southern Miss credit … they came out and hit us in the mouth the first drive on defense.”
While his defense was dazed a little, it wasn’t knocked out — mainly because LSU knew it helped with two penalties that aided Southern Miss’ potent offense on the lengthy, time-consuming trek to the end zone.
“That was definitely frustrating,” LSU free safety Jamal Adams said. “We were giving them holes and not doing our assignments; it just wasn’t LSU football.
“I liked the way we played in the end. … In the second half, we played LSU defense.”
Holding Southern Miss to just 135 total yards in the first half was just the start for LSU, which also had a hand in helping the offense explode for 28 third-quarter points that snapped a 10-10 halftime deadlock.
That’s when the Tigers defense really took over.
After Derrius Guice snapped LSU’s offense out of a first-half funk with a 61-yard touchdown run on the third play of the second half, Adams set his team up for another quick-strike score.
Adams ripped the football from the grasp of Southern Miss running back George Payne, then scooped it up at the USM 22.
Two plays later, Guice ripped off a 20-yard run to the end zone to push LSU’s lead to 24-10 — which was more than enough, as it turned out, for the Tigers’ stout defense.
“Most definitely, that was huge,” Adams, who had 11 tackles, said of his strip and fumble recovery. “Anytime you can create a turnover like that, you want the offense to cash in on it.”
After Guice delivered, LSU’s defense kept up the pressure on Southern Miss’ next possession.
Defensive end Lewis Neal had a sack of Nick Mullens, and, two plays later, linebacker Arden Key hurried Mullens into an incompletion that forced USM to punt.
When asked what Orgeron said at halftime, Key said Orgeron told them exactly what he told reporters after the game,
“We got punched in the mouth," Key said. “You’re not going to get punched in the mouth and do nothing about it. You can’t have that.”
On its first six possessions of the second half, Southern Miss lost a fumble, punted four times and turned the ball over on downs. The Golden Eagles finished the second half with 107 yards on 37 snaps.
Southern Miss, which went into the game ranked seventh in FBS with 532.2 yards per game and was averaging 40.2 points per contest, finished with 242 total yards on 73 plays — netting a mere 3.3 yards per snap.
After that first drive, when Southern Miss had much success running the ball, LSU’s defense cracked down.
USM running back Ito Smith had 36 yards on seven carries on the first drive, capping it with a 1-yard touchdown run after his 19-yard blast produced a first-and-goal at the LSU 3.
LSU also helped Southern Miss with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on cornerback Donte Jackson that took the Golden Eagles to midfield.
Then, they had 12 men on the field when Southern Miss tricked LSU on fourth-and-4 at the Tigers 44, punting the ball after it appeared to be going for it.
But LSU bounced back nicely after that.
“We had to play with energy and play for 60 minutes,” said Neal, who had six tackles to go with his sack. “We didn’t do that in the beginning, but it was a brand new game in the second half.
“We couldn’t whine about what they did on that first drive,” he added. “We made some mistakes, so we just had to go out and have some fun and eliminate the penalties.”