NASHVILLE, Tenn. — John Emery veered left. The edge was free. Untouched after 12 yards, the LSU running back high-stepped in the back of the Vanderbilt end zone and flipped the football as if it were a layup on a basketball court.
No. 20 LSU's 41-7 trouncing of Vanderbilt was a layup.
Or, following its upset against Mississippi State last week, it's more of a rebound.
However you want to categorize it, Emery was at the center of LSU's success inside Vanderbilt Stadium, where the only attending fans were a small group of students and cardboard cutouts.
Emery's first career 100-yard performance came exactly when the Tigers needed it.
In an offense that still has kinks to work out in its passing game, Emery had 12 carries for 103 yards and a touchdown. LSU (1-1) dominated Vanderbilt (0-2) on the ground in a fashion that opened things up for its new starting quarterback Myles Brennan, who also found absolution after a rocky Week 1.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron had said leading up to the game that "I just think we need to get the running game going more." He wanted to run more on first down. He wanted the offense to be more balanced; closer to a 50/50 ratio of run and pass.
Orgeron got his wish.
LSU outgained Vanderbilt 498-266 in total offensive yards, and did so with 27 pass attempts and 32 rush attempts.
Brennan finished the game 23-of-37 passing for 337 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.
"It's what we needed," Orgeron said. "I've said it before, we needed to take pressure off of Myles."
On the second drive of the game, Emery had rushes of 14 and 17 yards, which set up a screen pass along the left sideline, where Brennan connected with Jontre Kirklin, who dashed for a 28-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 6:09 left in the first quarter.
Emery had six rushes of 10 yards or more, and two Brennan touchdown passes to Terrace Marshall both followed long, gashing runs by the former five-star recruit from Destrehan High.
Usual starting running back Chris Curry was not available for the game, Orgeron said, though he didn't detail the reason. With Curry dressed out on the sideline, Ty Davis-Price started, and Emery became the hot-handed feature back who averaged 8.6 yards per carry.
Emery showcased his explosiveness, taking quick cuts through open lanes and powering through tackles. Orgeron said he joked with Emery that "he's got a big chest on him now." The fifth-year coach said the running back didn't have one when he arrived on campus, and he put in the work with strength coach Tommy Moffitt.
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Still, the LSU offense started the game a bit rusty. The Tigers wanted to go for it on a fourth-and-2 at the Vanderbilt 35 on its first drive, but a false start on tight end Arik Gilbert forced the team to punt.
Brennan had more command in the pocket than in his debut last week. He was hardly hurried, never sacked, and he started the game 8-of-11 passing for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
But penalties and drops by wide receivers kept the Tigers from breaking the game open in the first half.
Up 7-0 in the first quarter, an LSU false start forced a third-and-8 at midfield. Brennan delivered an on-target pass to Jaray Jenkins, who dropped what would've been a first-down catch. The Tigers punted.
Jenkins returned to the sideline, dropped to the ground and did eight push-ups before sitting on the bench.
Up 14-0 in the second quarter, Brennan had Racey McMath open down field, but the quarterback's pass sailed over his receiver and landed squarely in the hands of Vanderbilt cornerback Randall Haynie.
What could've been a three-score LSU lead turned into a one-score game, when Vanderbilt followed with an 8-play, 58-yard touchdown drive that took less than four minutes.
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Commodores quarterback Ken Seals was 4-for-4 passing for 45 yards on the drive, and his eight-yard touchdown pass to Ben Bresnahan was delivered in tight coverage.
The LSU defensive backs vindicated themselves a week after surrendering a Southeastern Conference-record 623 yards passing to Mississippi State's Air Raid. Although Vanderbilt was more committed to running the football, Seals was held to 11-of-25 passing for 113 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
LSU safety Todd Harris, who missed most of the 2019 season with a knee injury, recorded his first interception of the season on second-and-goal in the fourth quarter.
True freshman cornerback Eli Ricks also intercepted Seals in the fourth quarter, leaping high for a pass in a pick that looked very similar to his first interception against Mississippi State.
Senior safety JaCoby Stevens said he kept his teammates in the secondary from watching any football this week other than Vanderbilt film. No Monday Night Football. Nothing else.
"I put us all on punishment," Stevens said. "We were on punishment for how we performed last Saturday. It worked out."
Some of the LSU secondary's success can be contributed to the return of All-American cornerback Derek Stingley, who missed the Mississippi State game after spending the night in a hospital because of an allergic reaction.
Stingley had a crucial tackle on Vanderbilt's third drive, when he made a backside tackle on a Commodores misdirection run to the left side of the field. The tackle, which saved a long run, forced a long third down and eventually Vanderbilt's third straight punt to start the game.
The versatile Stingley also dazzled with 92 return yards, including a 48-yard punt return in the third quarter in which he paused in the middle of the field, waited, then dashed down the right sideline to the Vanderbilt 20.
LSU couldn't completely capitalize on the return. Three Brennan passes didn't pick up a first down, and Cade York kicked a 31-yard field goal to give LSU a 27-7 lead with 7:10 left in the third quarter.
LSU's offense struggled on third down, converting just 4 of 12 opportunities in the game.
Myles Brennan released decisive throws and climbed in the pocket against Vanderbilt, clearly improving the two areas coach Ed Orgeron wanted Brennan to work on after LSU’s season-opening loss to Mississippi State.
Drops contributed to the issue.
Earlier in the third quarter, Trey Palmer dropped a slightly high Brennan pass on second down, and, after another incompletion from Brennan, York made a career-high 53-yard field goal.
Vanderbilt had its own share of missed opportunities, and it couldn't capitalize on the moments it caught LSU off guard.
The Commodores, trailing 14-0 in the second quarter, couldn't convert a fourth-and-4 attempt at the LSU 40. Seal's pass bonked off the facemask of receiver Amir Abdur-Rahman, who was open on a crossing route.
Just before halftime, Vanderbilt's Donovan Kaufman fielded a deep kickoff just at the edge of the end zone, seemed to catch the LSU coverage off guard, and broke a return 58 yards to the Tigers 42.
A quick drive pushed into the red zone, the LSU defense tightened on the goal line, and Vanderbilt kicker Pierson Cooke missed a 22-yard field goal attempt wide left.
Then, on Vanderbilt's first drive of the second half, running back Ja'Veon Marlow dropped a deep pass after he was left wide open on a third-down wheel route to the right sideline.
LSU leaves Nashville a winner on another crazy day in college football that saw No. 9 Texas, No. 16 Mississippi State and No. 18 Oklahoma downed by unranked opponents.
Upset a week ago, the Tigers are still in the race for whatever postseason there may be.
"This is a happy football team in this locker room," Orgeron said.