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LSU linebacker Tyler Taylor (24) tackles Brigham Young defensive lineman Langi Tuifua (49) during his first ever college game Saturday. 

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

John Battle is used to feeling old, but nothing compared to Saturday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

LSU rotated in seven freshmen on defense, including five true freshmen. Three of those first-year players were with Battle in the secondary.

“I noticed,” the fourth-year junior smiled. “I was like, ‘Man, it’s just me now.’ Looking around like, ‘I’m really the old guy now.’ ”

He’s got nothing on Corey Thompson, a 23-year-old senior who played next to a freshman (K’Lavon Chaisson) who was in eighth grade when Thompson enrolled at LSU.

Oh yes, LSU’s 27-0 season-opening rout of BYU on Saturday night in New Orleans was an opening act for something other than the Ed Orgeron era. A whopping 17 true freshmen played; that's 77 percent of the 22 eligible players in the signing class.

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LSU safety Grant Delpit was one of 17 true freshmen to play Saturday in the Tigers' season opener. 

It’s a startling number, especially considering four of them started (outside linebacker Chaisson, safety Grant Delpit, right guard Saahdiq Charles and inside linebacker Tyler Taylor) and three more rotated fairly regular with the starters (nickelback Kary Vincent, inside linebacker Jacob Phillips and right guard Ed Ingram).

That’s the most true freshmen to play in an LSU season opener since 2000 and potentially the most in school history. More research is needed to verify that, a school statistician said Monday.

“We knew they were going to play. We prepared them,” Orgeron said. “I feel like this is one of the best freshman classes I’ve been around. I thought they were going to play well. Actually, I thought they were going to make a little more mistakes than they did.”

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At least one glaring mistake was made by one of the seven rotational rookies. A BYU defender blew up LSU’s fourth-and-goal play from the 1-yard line, when he burst through the spot occupied by the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Charles.

Many of the freshmen, including Charles, are still competing for their starting positions. The four starting spots occupied by freshmen Saturday saw a fairly heavy rotation.

Charles split drives at right guard with fellow freshman Ingram, with Charles playing six drives and Ingram four. Taylor (six drives) shared time at inside linebacker with fellow freshman Jacob Phillips (three). Delpit and senior Ed Paris shared nearly identical playing time at free safety. At LSU’s edge-rushing Buck linebacker spot, Chaisson (six drives) rotated with redshirt freshman Ray Thornton (three).

Whether those four will all start Saturday in the home opener against Chattanooga is unclear. Many of them got the starting nod because projected starters were left home, potentially for unannounced suspensions. Taylor replaced Donnie Alexander, who did not make the trip. Chaisson replaced Arden Key, who traveled with the team but is recovering from shoulder surgery.

Vincent, a rotational player, saw almost all of the snaps at the nickel position after Xavier Lewis was left back in Baton Rouge. And the opening at right guard for Ingram and Charles was only available because of the suspension and subsequent transfer of Maea Teuhema in August.

Running back Derrius Guice averaged 4.5 yards per carry behind a line with those rotating freshmen.

“They came out ready to play,” Guice said. “I even told Saahdiq and Ed before the game, ‘Bro, when y’all called, y’all got to come. You’re not in high school anymore. Move on. It’s time to go.’ ”

To further explain the scope of 17 true freshmen playing in one game, take a look at previous seasons. LSU has played 125 true freshmen in the past 12 seasons, an average of 10 per year. The Tigers played a combined 20 true freshmen in the previous three season openers combined.

Four true freshmen had started openers in the previous 17 seasons combined. That same number started Saturday. LSU led the nation with four true freshmen starters, and the Tigers were tied nationally, with Miami and Georgia, in total rookies played in their opener. 

So why did so many play this time?

Presumed suspensions created holes, for starters. Thirteen scholarship players were left in Baton Rouge for the opener. The loss of 11 to 12 starters from last season’s team opened spots, too.

There’s a deeper reason, though: Orgeron is embracing a principle espoused by one of his mentors. Pete Carroll was known for promising recruits playing time in Year 1 and then delivering. He held no bias for veteran guys in starting position battles, thrusting rookies into the fire.

There’s another reason behind Saturday’s youth movement, Guice said: the maturity of the class members.

“It’s like they know they’re not in high school no more. They don’t walk around every time they mess up or do something wrong (and say), ‘Oh, I’m just getting here. I’m a freshman,’ ” Guice said. “They practice and play like veterans. That’s the biggest key. My class, we had a lot of childish guys still thinking they’re in high school. This class, they’re just way mature than the previous classes. That’s a major step. It’s about maturity, about growing up.”

They excelled, in part, because of the older guys.

Sure, the Tigers played a lot of freshmen Saturday, but they’ve got some grizzled veterans. Defensive linemen Christian LaCouture and Greg Gilmore are fifth-year seniors, and Thompson is a sixth-year player. Paris and Battle are fourth-year guys.

On offense, quarterback Danny Etling and left tackle K.J. Malone are fifth-year players, and receivers DJ Chark and Russell Gage and left guard Garrett Brumfield are fourth-year players.

“Got to give credit to our older guys,” Orgeron said. “They coached them up. They stayed calm on the sideline, stayed calm before the game.”

LaCouture expected what he saw Saturday from the freshmen. Why? He saw the same stuff during preseason camp.

“They had jitterbugs, of course, but everyone does when you go into a big game like that,” he said. “They stepped up and did a good job.”


SENSATIONAL SEVENTEEN

It's possible that no LSU team has ever started as many true freshman in a season opener as the Tigers did Saturday night. Here are all 17 and where they played:

 Player

 Role

 Position rank out of HS

 QB Myles Brennan

 Entered with No. 2 offense

 6th

 OLB K’Lavon Chaisson

 Started the game

 4th

 RG Saahdiq Charles

 Started the game

 18th

 FS Grant Delpit

 Started the game

 9th

 OL Austin Deculus

 Played on FG/XP team

 10th

 RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire

 No. 1 kickoff returner

 5th

 DE Neil Farrell

 Rotated late on D-line

 25th

 S Todd Harris

 Played on kick/punt teams

 11th

 G Ed Ingram

 Rotated at No. 1 RG

 13th

 WR Justin Jefferson

 Entered w/No. 2 WRs

 308th

 CB Jontre Kirklin

 Played on kick/punt teams

 48th

 WR Racey McMath

 Played on kick team/ with No. 2 WRs

 90th

 ILB Jacob Phillips

 Rotated at ILB

 1st

 ILB Patrick Queen

 Played on kick team

 17th

 ILB Tyler Taylor

 Started the game

 11th

 DE Justin Thomas

 Rotated late on D-line

 19th

 CB Kary Vincent

 Played No. 1 nickelback

 13th

NOTE: Eight more redshirt freshmen saw their first action Saturday: K Connor Culp, OL Lloyd Cushenberry, DE Glen Logan, S Eric Monroe, TE Jamal Pettigrew, OL Jakori Savage, OLB Ray Thornton and CB Greedy Williams. One walk-on freshman played: LB Layton Garnett.

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.