“There were some good things, but we have to eliminate some mistakes. We had some missed tackles; we had some penalties. We can’t fumble a punt.” LES MILES, LSU coach
The No. 8 LSU football team kept marching toward the start of Southeastern Conference play next week with a 45-13 victory against Kent State on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
It was the Tigers’ third victory by a double-digit margin in as many games as they prepare to host Auburn next Saturday. Just as it did in a 56-17 victory against UAB a week earlier, LSU bolted to a 21-0 lead after one quarter and was never seriously threatened.
The Tigers’ passing game continued to flourish under first-year coordinator Cam Cameron, the running came to life with two 100-yard rushers and the young defense continued to overcome occasional slip-ups to stifle an outmanned opponent.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” coach Les Miles said.
Now they move on to SEC play, though their first test against a rebuilding Auburn program under first-year coach Gus Malzahn doesn’t figure to be one of the toughest they’ll face among their eight conference games.
“I think we are on pace,” Miles said. “We are minus a couple of SEC games of where we need to be.”
LSU scored touchdowns on its first three possessions for the first time since its 2006 game against Alabama and scored points on its first five possessions for the first time since its game against Mississippi State that season.
Many of the individuals who stood out Saturday were the ones who have been doing so since a 37-27 victory against preseason No. 20 TCU in the season opener Aug. 31.
Zach Mettenberger was precise and productive for the third straight game, completing 13 of 18 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns a week after he threw a school record five touchdowns. His nine touchdowns through three games are the most in school history.
“Zach is off to a really good start,” Miles said.
Jarvis Landry had two touchdown catches, giving him five for the season as he reached the end zone for the fifth consecutive game dating to last season.
Odell Beckham Jr. fell far short of his near-record 331 all-purpose yardage total against UAB, but he still had five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown.
Jeremy Hill, limited to six carries in the first two games as discipline for a second guilty plea to a misdemeanor, returned to the starting lineup and ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns — including a career-long 58-yarder on the first possession of the game — on 11 carries.
Terrence Magee, who was the leading rusher in Hill’s absence against TCU, had the first 100-yard game in his three seasons, finishing with 108 and a 12-yard touchdown on nine carries as he, Alfred Blue (10) and Kenny Hilliard (four) had carries in relief of Hill.
LSU, which had nine players rush the ball and nine catch the ball last week, didn’t utilize quite as many but still had five rushers and six receivers as the coaches tried to maximize the number of players who get pre-SEC experience and keep the starters fresh.
The Golden Flashes (1-2), who rank third in the Mid-American Conference at 152.5 rushing yards per game, managed just 58 yards on 32 attempts.
“When you come into an atmosphere like this, and this is by far to me one of the top five programs in the country,” Kent State coach Paul Haynes said, “you go out there and battle, and our guys did. There will not be another setting like this that we will have to go into.”
Two things Miles and his staff will be able to harp on during preparations for Auburn are penalties and turnovers. The Tigers committed 11 penalties for 86 yards, and Travin Dural’s fumble on a punt return led to a Golden Flashes field goal. Mettenberger hasn’t committed a turnover, but LSU has lost a fumble in each of the first three games, and each has led to points.
“There were some good things, but we have to eliminate some mistakes,” Miles said. “We had some missed tackles; we had some penalties. We can’t fumble a punt.”
The Tigers’ 21-0 lead was built as Hill had his career-long run, Mettenberger threw a 21-yard scoring pass to Landry (on third-and-20) and Hill ran 12 yards for another score.
“We knew what LSU was going to run,” Kent State safety Jordan Italiano said. “They were obviously not trying to hide anything.”
LSU, which yielded all 17 of UAB’s points in the second quarter, gave up 10 in that period to Kent State but still led 31-10 at halftime.
“The early starts have been great,” Mettenberger said. “We just have to keep plowing away and stay consistent. There are moments when we get down and become lackadaisical.”
The Tigers didn’t score in the third quarter, but Mettenberger threw a 5-yard touchdown to Beckham and Magee ran for his score in the fourth quarter.
LSU dominated Kent State statistically, finishing with 26 first downs while allowing 16. The Tigers had 571 yards and allowed 248.
“Sometimes we may get relaxed, and that’s when the offense may be running tempo,” cornerback Jalen Mills said. “We really have to focus now and play defense all four quarters like we should.”
LSU has won its three pre-conference games by an average score of 46-19, but the Tigers coach certainly will remind his players that last season they won their three pre-conference games by an average score of 48-10.
Then they went to Auburn and struggled before prevailing 12-10 against a team that would go winless in the SEC.
“I think we’ve started fast,” Miles said. “I think our pre-conference will prepare us for this next series of games. I think we’re where we need to be.
“We look forward to opening against an SEC opponent in our stadium next week. I understand the Auburn team won tonight (against Mississippi State). It will be a great test next week.”