Most fans who filed into Tiger Stadium on Saturday night were probably looking most forward to two things.
One was getting out of a home Hurricane Isaac may have robbed of electricity. The other was checking out new LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger in his first collegiate action.
While there’s no denying the start of college football provided a welcome distraction in the wake of Isaac, the so-called aerial show many expected to see took a backseat to LSU’s tried-and-true running game.
Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue combined for 264 rushing yards on 29 carries, becoming the first LSU tandem to exceed 100 yards in a season opener since Dalton Hilliard (Kenny’s uncle) and Garry James in 1982.
Hilliard had 141 yards on 13 carries, with two scores. Blue added 123 yards on 16 carries.
“It’s a great, great feeling to have me and Blue come out and run for 100 yards as individuals,” Hilliard said. “Next week, we just come out and prepare and try to do the same thing.”
Hilliard’s yards Saturday were loud ones.
On LSU’s first possession of the first half, one play after Jarvis Landry bailed out quarterback Zach Mettenberger with a one-handed grab on third down, Hilliard broke off the right side and raced 38 yards to a touchdown.
On LSU’s last possession of the half, with less than two minutes to play before intermission and the offense in hurry-up mode, Hilliard broke off a 60-yard run, setting the Tigers up first-and-goal.
Hilliard also scored on a 5-yard run in the second quarter, finishing a drive quarterbacked by Stephen Rivers after Mettenberger was knocked out of the game on blitzing cornerback Hilbert Jackson’s sack.
Blue’s yards were a little quieter.
With a long of 37 yards, Blue worked steadily to achieve the second 100-yard performance of his career.
The powerful, hard-charging Hilliard and the quick, shifty Blue came into the season touted as a thunder-and-lightning type duo. But LSU coach Les Miles had an instant-classic line in Saturday’s postgame when he dubbed the pair “Shake and Bake” in reference to the Will Ferrell comedy Talladega Nights.
“I think Blue’s more of the shake,” Hilliard said. “I’m more of the bake.”
But judging by Saturday’s performance, it could be awhile before LSU fans see the Tigers cooking up an expansive overhaul of the passing game.
Mettenberger attempted 26 passes in the blowout win, completing 19 for 192 yards and a touchdown. He looked more like a first-time starter trying to get comfortable in a new role than the savior of a lethargic passing game from seasons past.
The highlight of the junior’s debut came when he threaded the needle to Kadron Boone for a 34-yard score early in the fourth quarter. Interestingly, it was Jackson — who earlier sent Mettenberger to the sideline with the bell-ringing hit — that the LSU quarterback beat for his first scoring strike of the season. Otherwise, he struggled with North Texas’ blitzes.
Early in the first quarter, he was called for intentional grounding after slipping deep into the pocket, a call that resulted in a loss of 17 yards. Late in the second, he threw an interception from the North Texas 7 with 1:07 showing and LSU looking to strike before halftime.
He was in and out of the lineup, first because of the hard hit by Jackson and later because of leg cramps.
“It is one of those things where you have to learn now to get the ball out and you have to recognize the defense that is being played,” Miles said. “All in all, I liked him. I liked his composure.”
The passing game could come with time, but already the running game appears to be right back in 2011 form.
A little of Blue and a little Hilliard had a big opening night.
A little shake. A little bake.
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