The golden arches lit up the top of Tiger Stadium’s north end, the start of a new tradition at LSU in which that part of the old coliseum will shine like gold after a Tiger victory.
Inside Death Valley, the way LSU got to that win over North Texas didn’t exactly qualify as a happy meal.
It is a byproduct of the Tigers’ success in what has so far been a golden century of LSU football (and no, that’s not forgetting what happened Jan. 9 in New Orleans) that a 41-14 victory over an outmatched team like North Texas can be underwhelming.
The Tigers piled up over 500 yards total offense for the first time since 2007, got a pair of 100-yard rushing games in a season opener for the first time in 30 years and were never really threatened.
And yet, the impression was certainly that if LSU had an opener like it had to play the last three years — at Washington (next week’s opponent) in 2009, against North Carolina in 2010 or Oregon last year — the Tigers might well have been in trouble.
Two touchdowns erased by penalties were part of LSU’s image problem.
So were the two touchdowns the Tigers got burned for over the middle, including an 80-yard touchdown pass in the first half (the longest play LSU gave up last year was 72 yards).
Drew Alleman (gasp!) even dared to miss a field goal. The Tigers had no sacks, despite having the most highly touted pair of defensive ends in the country. One of those ends, Sam Montgomery, didn’t start (senior Lavar Edwards did and played the first two series) and wasn’t credited with a tackle.
Adding to LSU’s discomfort was a moment early on that reminded everyone how paper thin the margin between success and disaster can be.
Late in the first quarter, North Texas’ Hilbert Jackson came free on a corner blitz and drilled LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
Dazed, the Tigers junior lay on the turf for a long moment as Tiger Stadium and LSU fans everywhere held their collective breath.
Mettenberger returned, throwing an interception at the North Texas goal line before eventually posting a solid 192-yard performance with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Kadron Boone, but for that moment all of LSU’s lofty aspirations were hanging by a very thin thread.
Now the Tigers take a step up in class against Washington, a team likely to test LSU’s rebuilt secondary as much as any this season. The old saying says teams improve most from their first game to their second — a must against the Huskies.
“We have to improve,” the always-upbeat Les Miles said. “It was a very positive night. If we keep improving we can be a very good football team.”
Maybe it was the hurricane. Maybe it was the class of the opponent, a light middleweight playing up to the heavyweight level.
But for the gold lights to come on next Saturday, or in October against the likes of South Carolina or in November against Alabama, effort and execution must improve.