In what has to this point felt like a surreal LSU football season, Saturday’s game with Utah State may have been the most unnatural moment of all.
The 11 a.m. matinee felt more like a spring game than the real thing, with little of the bourbon-infused Mardi Gras-ness that typically surrounds a Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
Indeed when it was all done, a 42-6 throttling of these Aggies looked and felt nothing like what a win over the Texas A&M Aggies would be like come November. But given its time and place, and allowing for an opponent not of the caliber LSU will play the rest of this season from the rock ‘em, sock ‘em Southeastern Conference, it was the most complete effort the Tigers have shown thus far.
After three shaky performances, LSU's defense played one of its best games of the season: "We came and shut up a lot of doubters."
The offense shifted like a variable speed drill to bore through Utah State to the tune of 601 yards, not with the go-fever passing attack of the first four games but with a running game out of the past.
Les Miles would like a lot of what he saw from the Tigers on Saturday. They rushed for 248 yards on 51 attempts, a major factor in LSU playing keep away with the ball for a whopping 41:03. It is still mighty strange to say the Tigers being committed to the run has the power to surprise, but such is the offense Steve Ensminger, Joe Brady and Joe Burrow have wrought this season.
But what does it say to future LSU opponents they have to worry about both sides of the Tigers’ offensive coin? Nothing appealing, that’s for sure.
“It was methodical,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “We were chewing up clock and the defense was resting. It wasn’t as fun …”
Well, Coach O semi-corrected himself, “Winning is fun. We’ll see what we need to do. Go fast or go slow, whatever we need to do we’ll get it done.”
Can't see video below? Click here.
For all its success this season, LSU has had an unnerving tendency to turn the ball over inside its 20. It happened again Saturday, as an early Burrow offering skipped high off the hands of tight end Thaddeus Moss and was returned by Utah State's Cameron Haney to the Tigers’ 7. But LSU’s defense, looking like an LSU defense again, stiffened and held the Aggies to a field goal. The pick was the type of mistake that might cost the Tigers in a critical spot down the road, but the end result managed to be a lemons-to-lemonade turn of events as the Tigers limited Utah State to 159 yards and only 10 first downs.
Back to Burrow. If Utah State quarterback Jordan Love is a first-round NFL draft pick, then Burrow is, too. Love dropped some dimes into some mighty tight slots, but he was inaccurate a number of times as well, forced into some desperate throws as he completed just 15 of 30 passes for 140 yards with three interceptions. Burrow was more resourceful when he had to be as Utah State appeared to sell out to stop the pass. Joe may have worked harder for his yards than expected, but in the end the balance sheet still looked as profitable. He finished 27 of 38 for 344 yards with five touchdowns, probably the quietest five-touchdown performance any LSU quarterback has ever had.
LSU is 5-0 and in a 42-6 victory over Utah State, they got there with both an explosive offense and a stifling defense.
As for the crowd, or the lack of it, Tiger Stadium was two-thirds full Saturday, if that. The quadruple whammy of an 11 a.m. kickoff, unseasonably scorching weather, a lightly regarded non-conference opponent and a train blocking Skip Bertman Drive near the stadium conspired to make Death Valley look more like the days of LSU’s six straight losing seasons than the home of a top five-ranked team.
I don’t blame a lot of folks for staying away Saturday. How hot was it? It was 84 degrees officially at kickoff, but broiling enough that the timing system essentially melted in the fourth quarter, forcing game officials to keep track of the game and play clocks on the field.
I loathe what television has done to tear at the fabric of LSU football’s tradition and culture. This is a game that in the pre-SEC Network days would probably have been a TigerVision pay-per-view tilt that kicked off at 6:30 or 7 p.m. At least for some reason, CBS took a pass on LSU’s home game next Saturday against Florida, leaving ESPN to show what shapes up to be a classic SEC showdown with a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Death Valley should be its rocking old self, a setting befitting its resident team. A team that on balance looked as fit for the fights to come as any LSU supporters could reasonably ask them to after five games.
With less than half the regular season in the books, LSU senior quarterback Joe Burrow continues his climb up the school's all-time passing lists.
“I personally can’t wait for the stretch we have,” linebacker Jacob Phillips said, referring to the next four games against Florida, Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama. “This is why you play. It’s very exciting. It’s best to be in the position we are, 5-0.”
Perhaps more exciting for the all-around effort the Tigers showed Saturday.