CenterAlign.30Our cultural obsession with youth has found a happy home with this LSU football program.
The Tigers came into this 2014 season heavily dependent on the young, the restless and the completely unproven. They had no choice, particularly at critical spots like quarterback, wide receiver and defensive tackle. Even 90-year-old Tiger Stadium got in on the facelift fad as the latest in a recent string of major Joan Rivers-like surgical improvements (oh, she would have found it funny) debuted with the addition of nearly 10,000 seats in the south end zone.
Tiger Stadium never looked better with the exterior lighting and gates and repaved walkways and the new video scoreboards and ribbon scoreboards that were eye-grabbing — when they worked.
But a few gremlins and a couple of mistake-filled moments aside — still thinking of that delay-of-game penalty to start the second half against Wisconsin — these have been two weeks, two encouraging victories for the purple and gold (and still green) Tigers.
The 28-24 win over the Badgers in Houston was a positive for LSU because it was pulled off with a huge, confidence-building comeback against a highly ranked opponent. Were it not for the fact that Wisconsin’s Big Ten Conference got wiped out Saturday like Little Big Horn, it might have been just about the perfect storm of a win in many respects.
The Sam Houston State game, a 56-0 final, was much the different story.
The Bearkats were supposed to be a bearskin rug for the Tigers to wipe their cleats on. Thanks, Sam. Here’s a check for $500,000. Should help pay for the rug cleaning.
LSU wasn’t ever in danger of losing. But this easily could have been the kind of game in which the Tigers sputtered and stumbled around, piling up penalties and punts, given the fact so many LSU players are much closer to Pre-K than AARP.
That didn’t happen. Sam Houston played fast and loose on its first drive, leaving the Tigers spinning backwards in the face of its Usain Bolt-fast hurry-up attack. But a Dwayne Thomas interception snuffed that drive. One play later, Anthony Jennings hooked up with Travin Dural on (what else for Dural, who only catches first downs and touchdowns) a school-record 94-yard strike.
The strategic bombing campaign was on.
In the end, LSU piled up 584 yards of total offense and got virtually everyone in the game it wanted to see play in this 56-0 win. That included backup quarterback Brandon Harris, who didn’t get the 50-50 playing time with Jennings he sought but was able to score his first touchdown on a churning 46-yard keeper and followed up with his first touchdown pass to Malachi Dupre (for his first TD reception).
Harris threw some darts and looked good in relief. But Jennings doesn’t look like he’s being set up for a fall from the starting quarterback job anytime soon. He appeared comfortable in the pocket, albeit against Sam Houston’s Swiss cheese-ish defense, but you still have to make the plays. He was an efficient 7-of-13 for 188 yards and three TD passes to Dural, and he netted 43 yards on eight carries.
All eyes again were on freshman phenom-in-training running back Leonard Fournette. He was bottled up and frustrated with 18 yards on eight carries against Wisconsin but broke out a slashing, thundering, 40-yard run in the second quarter to set up his first touchdown on a 4-yard blast.
Fournette then broke out a Heisman Trophy pose, which drew a full broadside of displeasure from coach Les Miles. Rightly so. Fournette is a long way from being a Heisman contender, but he showed some shiftiness and moves, and a nice pair of hands on a couple of catches.
Credit also to LSU’s defense. It was worth a sizable bet that the Tigers wouldn’t shut out the potent Bearkats, who averaged 43 points and 613.5 yards in their first two games. But LSU’s first shutout since 2010 was an ego boost for the Tigers, who held SHSU 407.5 yards below its season average and have allowed their first two opponents to complete just 33 percent of their passes.
Good schooling these two games for LSU, too. Wisconsin likes to ground and pound; Sam Houston likes drag races. The Tigers will have to deal with both in the Southeastern Conference. LSU played 37 guys on defense, depth that is critical to slowing the hurry-up style.
The Tigers are in a hurry to grow up. The newness is wearing off, and a night filled with new stars and a renewed stadium was filled with hopeful signs for LSU’s future.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.