ARLINGTON, Texas — The fact that LSU beat the No. 3 team in the country by 13 points might be made even more impressive by the fact that it did so with just 98 passing yards.
The Tigers never got into a rhythm with the passing game, but a productive running game, exceptional defensive play and a big play on special teams more than compensated in the 40-27 victory against Oregon in the Cowboys Classic on Saturday night in Cowboys Stadium.
“We need to do a better job of that moving forward, and we will,” LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee said. “We will get better at that for sure. The offensive line did a good job of protecting me (Saturday night), and we’ll get it fixed.”
Though he managed the game well and didn’t throw an interception, Lee completed just 10 of 22 passes. His statistics would have been better if not for several drops by receivers, but Lee said he’s not concerned about that.
“I know we have the playmakers to make those catches,” Lee said. “I practice with those guys every day, and I’ve thrown them all hundreds of balls. I know the next time we call their number they’re going to make the play.”
The passing offense was impacted by Lee being named the starter just eight days before the opener after Jordan Jefferson was suspended in the wake of being charged with second-degree battery. Two days before that, starting receiver Russell Shepard was declared indefinitely ineligible after violating an NCAA regulation.
“With all that happened off the field, the offense was kind of set back a little bit,” defensive back Tyrann Mathieu said, “but now that we made it through the first week, we expect the offense to settle down and be more productive.”
Coach Les Miles said the passing game isn’t the only area that needs to improve.
“I don’t feel like we’ve hung the moon in any way,” Miles said. “I don’t think there’s anybody — offense, defense or special teams — that doesn’t realize that they really need to improve. We’re ambitious about the season. This is, you know, just the first win. It only counts one. It’s not any better or any worse than just one. We have a long season in front of us.”
Seven LSU players saw their first collegiate action Saturday: wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, defensive tackles Anthony “Freak” Johnson and Ego Ferguson, fullback Kenny Hilliard, tight end Nic Jacobs and punter Brad Wing.
Four others made their first career starts: tailback Spencer Ware, wide receiver Kadron Boone, cornerback Tharold Simon (LSU started in nickel with Mathieu as the nickel back) and middle linebacker Kevin Minter.
Mathieu moves up
Mathieu again demonstrated his knack for big plays when he covered an LSU punt, forced a fumble, recovered the football and ran 3 yards for a touchdown. As a freshman last season, Mathieu forced five fumbles, recovered three fumbles, made two interceptions and had 4.5 sacks.
“The ball just seems to pop right into my hands from time to time,” Mathieu said.
Just 13 games into his Tigers career, Mathieu has tied Kelvin Sheppard (2007-10) and Clarence LeBlanc (1966-99) for second place in forced fumbles in a career (six). The leader is Ali Highsmith (2004-07) with seven.
The win over Oregon allowed LSU to extend a handful of impressive marks.
The victory was LSU’s 34th straight non-conference regular-season win, the nation’s longest current streak. The Tigers are now 29-1 in non-conference games under Miles (including bowl games), who is now 24-13 against ranked opponents at LSU.
LSU also won its ninth straight season opener, stretching a school record in that category and is now 21-4 all-time against members of the Pac-12.
The Tigers have now won 18 straight September games and are also now 86-28-5 in openers.
One step at a time
After the victory, Miles was asked if he would use any of the preparation time leading up to this week’s game against Northwestern State, a Football Championship Subdivision program, to work ahead for the Southeastern Conference opener at Mississippi State, which comes on the following Thursday.
“Absolutely not,” Miles said. “I know one thing. You had best get ready for each opponent and don’t pretend for a minute that victory (wouldn’t) taste just sweet next week just like it did (Saturday). So we’ll fight like heck to beat the Demons, then we’ll worry about a very, very talented Mississippi State team on the road.”
Keep on hurrying up
LSU ran a “tempo drill” regularly during preseason to get ready for Oregon’s high-speed offense. The Tigers offense tried to simulate the speed of the Ducks offense to help prepare LSU’s defense, but guard Will Blackwell thinks the drill might still have a shelf life.
“It’s a great idea,” Blackwell said of the drill. “It did a great job of getting us in shape on offense and defense. It makes you think quicker and react quicker. “I’m sure we’ll continue to do it throughout the season.”
At home in domes
Although Cowboys Stadium isn’t a domed stadium per se (the retractable roof was closed Saturday) meaning the Tigers were playing — and winning — yet another game under a roof.
The Tigers are now 23-7 indoors, including a streak of eight straight overall.
Miles’ weekly news luncheon has been moved from its usual Monday slot to Tuesday this week because of Labor Day and concerns the university had before leaving for Dallas that Tropical Storm Lee might still be impacting Baton Rouge on Monday. As a result, Miles and players won’t be available for interviews until Tuesday.
Les East, Scott Rabalais and Scott Hotard contributed.