ARLINGTON, Texas — LSU coaches and players talked for weeks about the importance of not allowing Oregon to dictate an accelerated pace during their season opener. They emphasized the need to run the ball, run the clock, slow things down.
Then, lo and behold, the Tigers offense went into a hurry-up mode of its own late in the second quarter, and the result was their first offensive touchdown, which gave them the lead for good at 16-13 on their way to a 40-27 triumph in the Cowboys Classic on Saturday night in Cowboys Stadium.
LSU didn’t necessarily beat Oregon at its own game, but the Tigers’ willingness to pick up the pace was one of several examples of them being one step ahead of the Ducks.
“We really focused on changing the tempo,” guard Will Blackwell said, “speed it up, slow it down, speed it up and catch them off guard.
“I felt like it did catch them off guard a little bit. I don’t know that they were necessarily expecting us to come out and change the tempo. Traditionally, we’re a more conventional slow-it-down, run-the-play kind of offense. That’s the name of the game — changing it up and breaking tendencies. That’s what we felt like we needed to do, and we did it.”
The Ducks had just completed a very un-Duck-like drive, holding the ball for 19 plays and 7:47 while driving 79 yards to a touchdown that gave them a 14-9 second-quarter lead.
The Tigers offense, which had struggled to that point, started getting to the line of scrimmage more quickly, not Oregon quick, but quicker nonetheless. Spencer Ware rushed for gains of 3, 16, and 4 yards, and Michael Ford ran for 13. That seemed to spark quarterback Jarrett Lee, who threw to Ford for a 4-yard gain, then overcame a 6-yard sack with an 18-yard completion to Deangelo Peterson. An Oregon penalty kept alive the drive, which ended with Lee throwing a 10-yard touchdown to Rueben Randle.
“We felt like, if you use a tempo that is predictable and then you increase the pace, you have some advantages,” coach Les Miles said. “So we did that a couple of times. It seemed to break some big plays.”
LSU took control of the game by scoring 17 points — thanks in large part to two fumbles by Oregon — during a seven-minute stretch that ended less than a minute into the fourth quarter and gave the Tigers a 33-13 cushion.
During that stretch, LSU let its running game take over as Ware and Ford each rushed for 32 yards and a touchdown, Ware getting the ball 10 times and Ford six.
“(The faster tempo) helps us get going, get into a good pace and tempo,” Lee said, “and it really got our momentum going. It really helped us”
Ducks coach Chip Kelly credited the Tigers for choosing to use their moderate version of the hurry-up at “opportune times.”
That was a helpful twist to LSU’s game plan, but the bread and butter was the defense’s ability to disrupt Oregon’s spread option. Defensive coordinator John Chavis said the Tigers would use the speed, strength and depth on the defensive line to get into the backfield and count on their overall speed to get numerous players to the ball in a hurry on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage.
It worked, as LSU had six tackles for losses and eight different players had a hand in those plays. Even though it’s often a bad sign when a defense’s leading tacklers are defensive backs, in this case, the fact that the Tigers’ top four tacklers were from the secondary was more a byproduct of their speed to the ball than the Ducks consistently getting deep into the defense.
“I was totally confident,” said defensive end Sam Montgomery, who led the way with 1.5 tackles for loss. “It wasn’t hyped up. It was more of a confidence of knowing what was going to happen. I was so prepared. Our defensive line was supremely prepared. We paid attention to detail. When you work hard for so long to prepare for one team, that’s what ends up happening — you dominate on defense.”
Tyrann Mathieu led the way with 10 tackles, Brandon Taylor had nine, Tharold Simon eight, and Morris Claiborne six.
“We’re really confident in our secondary,” Montgomery said, “so all we had to do was stop the run.”
Montgomery said the defense’s performance unfolded the way Chavis drew it up, and he credited defensive line coach Brick Haley for “pushing us mentally and physically.”
“He trained us and built us up to be these fine machines that run to the football with all-out effort,” Montgomery said.
“We were worried about their hurry-up, but we were ready on every play. The hurry-up was not in effect for this game because we were prepared.”
The offense and the defense were prepared for the Ducks’ speed, and Mathieu made sure the special teams also had a big impact as he forced a fumble on an Oregon punt return, recovered the football and returned it three yards for LSU’s first touchdown.
“We went to offense, defense and special teams,” Miles said, “and (talked about) how a group of men would be committed to each other and do the things that they came to do.”