BATON ROUGE — The concern was that LSU would be looking behind or ahead at other games.
Anywhere but the task at hand.
That concern was quickly answered, and now the Tigers appear to be legitimate contenders for a run to New Orleans in January.
No. 2 LSU found the endzone on five of its first seven possessions Saturday night in coasting to a 49-3 victory over Northwestern State before an announced crowd of 94,405 at Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers were coming off a signature 40-27 pounding of then-No.3 Oregon on national television last Saturday, and in just five days they travel to Starkville for another top-25 matchup, this time for the SEC opener against Mississippi State on ESPN.
“I like how we approached this game,” LSU Coach Les Miles said. “We played with intensity in all three phases. The defense played like they were supposed to, and no matter who came in the game they played the same way. Offensively, we threw the ball efficiently and caught it well, rushed and had control of the situation to run the clock out.”
The Tigers were able to rest several starters in the blowout. It was one of the reasons Miles wanted his team focused on this game and this game only.
”It’s nice. It means that your starters were not taxed,” he said. “It means you should be fresh, and as we go into a short week, that’s key.”
Northwestern State (1-1), for their part, did score its first points ever in 11 meetings with LSU, when John Shaughnessy kicked a 44-yard field goal off the left upright early in the second quarter.
But the Tigers led 28-3 at halftime.
After Jarrett Lee completed 9 of 10 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown, junior college transfer and probable future starter Zach Mettenberger made his Tiger debut to start the second half. He didn’t disappoint, going 8 of 11 for 92 yards and a 19-yard touchdown pass to Kadron Boone.
”He did good,” Miles said of Mettenberger. ”He came in, got comfortable, made some nice throws. I felt like he handled the offense well.”
”He knew what his job was and in the huddle took control and went out and got the job done,” said LSU receiver Rueben Randle. ”He earned a lot of trust from us tonight and I know that will only build throughout the season.”
Spencer Ware and Michael Ford each ran for two touchdowns. As a team the Tiger offense rushed for 175 yards while the defense limited the Demons to -4.
Randle caught five passes for 121 yards while true freshman Odell Beckham Jr. continued to impress with five catches for 40 yards. Tight end DeAngelo Peterson caught a touchdown pass from Lee in the first half.
All told, the Tigers outgained NSU 400-95.
Starting linebacker Ryan Baker was suspended from the game for disciplinary issues, and punter Brad Wing was kept out for what Miles termed a minor leg injury, but it didn’t matter. LSU could have played and won the entire game with reserves. And that confidence is spreading throughout the team.
”The biggest thing is we wanted to come out and set a tone,” Ford said. ”We are the SEC, you can’t play with us. Get out of here. We are the big dogs and you are our little brother.”
Indeed, NSU was the little brother on this night. And now the big dogs get to focus on the Bulldogs in LSU’s first step in their quest for an SEC championship.
In addition to proving that a Jarrett Lee-led LSU team would not struggle with inferior opponents this season like it had the past three seasons, even in its 11-2 campaign in 2010, perhaps the individual play of the game helped catapult LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers into superstardom and the eventual No. 14 pick to the St. Louis Rams in the 2012 NFL Draft.
With LSU leading 14-3 midway through the second quarter, on a third-and-11 from the NSU 19, Demons quarterback Brad Henderson tried to avoid a sack near his goal line by ‘safely’ throwing the ball away into the turf in the middle of the field near the line of scrimmage.
‘Safely’ against just about any other defense not named the Pittsburgh Steelers.
LSU sophomore tackle Michael Brockers, who is 6’6 and 306 pounds, dove to his left and stretched out parallel to the ground. He stuck out his left hand and snared the ball like Tigers second baseman JaCoby Jones might, and he fell to the turf at the Demons’ 15-yard line, setting up a Spencer Ware touchdown two plays later.
It was a microcosm of exactly how outmanned NSU was.
“The were impressive on television and they’re even more impressive in person,” said Northwestern State coach Bradley Dale Peveto, a former LSU assistant under Miles. “The speed is what you cannot really tell on video and on television. That is a fast, fast, football team. They are very talented, very fast, very physical.”
“They had run that play before, and it got past me,” Brockers said. “When I saw it coming again, the quarterback was under pressure and just kind of lofted the ball. I was able to get out of my block and grab it.
“I didn’t want it to fall out of my hands, so I just curled up. I didn’t want to let it hit the ground. It was an athletic play, and I’m an athletic guy.”
Tigers defensive end Sam Montgomery said Brockers’ catch was “definitely an amazing play,” and added, “I believe all of our tackles could have made that play.”
The scary thing is that Montgomery was right. Brockers’ surprise season and early entry into the NFL shouldn’t hurt too much in 2012 as LSU is loaded at the defensive tackle position for a long time to come.