Around the time LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry turned a simple crossing pattern into an Etch-A-Sketch-inspired weave toward the end zone Saturday night, the purple-and-gold-adorned masses began filtering to the exits.
Late in the second quarter, they had seen enough in the Colosseum — an overwhelmed Kent State was all but dispatched in a 45-13 victory for the No. 8 Tigers. The reported 89,113 fans on hand could stream to their cars with a sense of satisfaction.
Lately, it’s become a Rite of September to administer a test of the Tigers’ collective personality.
Over the past two seasons, the Tigers’ out-of-conference docket proved a foreshadowing of the SEC slate to come.
In 2011, LSU’s season-opening rout of Oregon was a pulverizing preamble to a Southeastern Conference title and BCS title game appearance.
Last season, they ducked a hurricane and watched a roster get trimmed by personnel issues while playing a vanilla brand of football that left Les Miles’ program in a malaise as it trekked to Florida. It was a funk that proved hard to kick, too.
Assessing the results, though, doesn’t take a prolonged analysis after Saturday: This year’s squad is an efficient team with an even-keeled confidence that can mete out its beatings quickly, and it’s not so paranoid as to render its offense so risk-averse that it hands the burden of securing victory to its defense.
Already, SEC contenders in Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama have faced off in pivotal tilts with ramifications for their positioning later on.
Meanwhile, LSU drew a quality opponent in TCU, followed by rent-a-wins where the staff could tinker with gameplans, lineups and playcalling to position the Tigers for a winnable conference opener against rebuilding Auburn.
Afterward, Miles joked when asked about whether he preferred the setup of LSU’s schedule.
“Did I say I like that?” Miles said. “I think we started in terms of the style of competition in the opener. But the out-of-conference play will prepare for us this next series of games.”
Games like Kent State, an above-average foe out of the MAC, call for ruthless efficiency.
Case in point, the Tigers needed less than seven minutes to pile up a 21-0 first-quarter lead. It re-established a flagging run game with its first 300-yard rushing day since drubbing North Texas last season and managed to season youngsters in the secondary and linebacking corps without letting the Golden Flashes cut the lead to fewer than 18 points.
No, this wasn’t a repeat of last year’s snooze-inducing outing against Towson before that calamitous trip to Florida.
“There are some guys coming to practice knowing what plays they’re going to make in the game,” Miles said. “They’re ambitious about where they want to be.”
And the progression has a lot to do with fostering that trait in the LSU locker room.
The offense is aggressive without being reckless. Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger is putting up 265 yards a game and has thrown for a school-record nine touchdowns in three outings. But it’s about the efficiency, represented by a 65.2 completion percentage and a sterling 205.3 passer rating.
Since LSU fans always need a reason to wring their hands, the question this week was about whether a rushing attack ranked No 68 in the country could get rolling.
Early, new coordinator Cam Cameron’s playcalling tilted heavily toward reasserting a core component of LSU’s identity. Not that it hurt having running back Jeremy Hill back as the lead back. The sophomore, who Miles said still needs WD-40 to knock off rust, sheared off 117 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries. On the night, LSU piled up 307 yards and 8.3 per carry.
Saturday night reflected a stark shift in perspective: The Tigers’ offense isn’t a liability. Instead, it has helped provide cover for a young defense trying to mine depth.
“It is about confidence,” wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. “There is a lot of chemistry on the offense, and we are all clicking on all cylinders. Each and every day we are going to improve.”
On the opposite side of the ball, chalk Saturday night up to defensive coordinator John Chavis tinkering. Freshman Tre’Davious White got the nod over Jalen Collins at cornerback. A nicked-up Craig Loston could have played, but why do that when you could season Micah Eugene?
The swapping and experimenting at linebacker with reserves Lamar Louis, Kwon Alexander, Deion Jones and Kendell Beckwith sometimes produced miscues, but you don’t know what you have until it’s beta-tested. Trial and error is better now than in two weeks, when LSU hits the road for a key early test against Georgia.
“We’re going to use a lot of guys on defense,” Miles said. “It’s a very young group, and it’s a group that needs some reps.”
Are UAB and Kent State appropriate barometers ahead of the SEC gauntlet? No, but they’ll have to do.
Early in the fourth quarter Saturday, the glint coming off the bench was lustrous and easy to spot. Take it as a positive.
“We did,” Miles said, “what we were supposed to do.”