The derisive cheer for when LSU crossed the Mercedes-Benz Superdome’s 50-yard line never materialized, but the Tigers did exorcise a few domed demons that have haunted them for the past five years.
They avoided creating some, too.
For all the offseason of talk about what Air Canada would look like — new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s new-age attack — LSU followed an old-fashioned kind of recipe for its victory against BYU on Saturday night:
Leave tire tracks on them with the run. Play rock-ribbed defense. Overcome a handful of mistakes and the odd special teams disappointment and come away with a 27-0 win.
"We played LSU football," coach Ed Orgeron said. "We ran the ball well and stopped the run."
Frankly, Les Miles would have loved it.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they could have quite easily been victimized by their own recipe for disaster.
Thirteen players were missing from the Tigers’ traveling party Saturday for the transplanted Advocare Texas Kickoff. It wasn’t certain that all those players were suspended, but LSU brought some players who were injured and unable to play, like linebackers Arden Key and Andre Anthony, so draw your own conclusions. Kevin Toliver and Donnie Alexander, certain starters at cornerback and inside linebacker, respectively, were among the uninvited.
LSU lost seven defensive starters from last season’s team.
LSU faced the prospect of starting as many as five true or redshirt freshmen on defense. The Tigers ended up starting four: linebackers K’Lavon Chaisson and Tyler Taylor, free safety Grant Delpit and cornerback Greedy Williams. Nickel back Kary Vincent Jr. could have been a fifth.
The Tigers faced the serious prospect of being victimized by a crafty quarterback like BYU junior Tanner Mangum. What’s the old saying, that every freshman you’re forced to start equals a loss? It doesn’t quite mean the same thing these days, when many coaches feel compelled to start or play talented freshman right away for fear they’ll leave for the NFL after three years. But it’s still a bad way to fly.
Turns out, it was Mangum, Squally Canada (love that name) and the rest of the Cougars offense that found the going tough.
Guess which team never crossed the 50? Guess which team didn't even crack the 100-yard total offense barrier? It wasn't LSU.
Mike VII, LSU’s new mascot, would have been proud of the way his fellow newbies responded. LSU freshmen made the game’s first five tackles, followed on BYU’s next possession by an interception by Williams.
"We've seen them in camp," senior defensive end Christian LaCouture said. "Young guys play big roles. We expect it from them."
Disaster averted, though it didn’t make for a pretty picture at times. Freshman Saahdiq Charles, for example, who started at right guard after Maea Teuhema was suspended and subsequently transferred to Southeastern Louisiana, messed up on fourth-and-goal at the BYU 1 and allowed Darrel Williams to be dropped for a loss. There were penalties, many of them of the self-inflicted variety.
There were plenty of self-inflicted wounds this week in the LSU camp.
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Most of the missing will likely be back next week for LSU’s home opener against Chattanooga and will play most of if not all of the rest of the season. But the point is what a precarious spot their unavailability put LSU in for this game, a program desperate not to trip over an out-talented but game and disciplined opponent in the opener like the Tigers did a year ago against Wisconsin.
What is to blame for this missing man formation the Tigers found themselves in Saturday night? A lack of discipline? Stricter standards at LSU than some of its rival schools (cough, Alabama, cough, cough)? The answers are perhaps, and probably.
One thing is certain: a sizable slice of this LSU roster, a number of them key players, put themselves above the team. And that’s something you can’t have if you want to have success in the season opener or the entire season, much less contend for championships.
The Tigers knew they were likely to be without Key. They were going to be without players like Teuhema. They were going to be without nose guard Tyler Shelvin, Louisiana’s top-ranked recruit for 2017 but one who failed to be academically cleared by the NCAA. But there’s a significant number of players who missed the game who should have been able to play against BYU and simply weren’t.
Fortunately for LSU, the players who were on the field played pretty darned well. Derrius Guice rumbled for 120 yards and two touchdowns in roughly three quarters. Danny Etling had a pass efficiency rating that approached infinity. And all those young defenders were mighty impressive against a BYU team that rarely gets blown out like this.
"We didn’t use nearly as much (of the playbook) as we thought we’d have to, but we got out of here with a win," Etling said. "We were really controlling the game, running the ball really well. Some weeks we’ll have to throw the ball a lot, some weeks we won’t have to. This is one of the weeks we didn’t have to.
"You see 27 points and we left so much on the field. But we put up a lot of production. I felt every drive we were really going. Just the penalties pushed us back. That’s something we’re going to get fixed. That’s some first-game stuff you want to get out of the way. Hopefully we can move on from it."
There’s lots to work on, a lot to clean up as Saints coach Sean Payton would say. But LSU is doing it after a win instead of a loss.
It easily could have been worse.