The electronic message board on the back of an LSU bus trolling along Nicholson Drive Extension summed things up nicely.
“BFAT THE …” it read, the bottom part of the sign that should have said “BEAT” malfunctioning. Then, instead of reading “Paladins,” the next screen said “Touchdown Village.”
I didn’t know the place where so many fans park their RVs on the south side of campus was on the Tigers’ enemies list.
It was that kind of Saturday at LSU, where nothing seemed to work exactly right. In the end the LSU Tigers, like the “BFAT” bus, got to where they were supposed to go, even if it didn’t look beautiful doing it.
A 48-16 victory over Furman will go down in the record book and go out from Tiger Stadium on the wire services and websites as the right-looking lopsided kind of score you should see when the nation’s No. 13 team plays host to a sub-.500 team from the Football Championship Subdivision.
It was anything but a smooth ride, though, at least for a half.
The Tigers unquestionably were not inspired for this game. They probably wouldn’t have been under the best of circumstances, and this definitely was not the best of circumstances.
LSU had a week to dwell on what last Saturday’s 27-24 loss at Ole Miss cost in terms of the Tigers’ championship hopes. CBS is almost certain on Monday to still pick LSU’s Nov. 9 game at No. 1 Alabama for its one and only prime-time slot of the season — with a couple of upsets, it could be a battle of top-10 teams. But it won’t have the luster the folks at Black Rock (CBS’s Manhattan headquarters) hoped for when they circled Nov. 9 on their calendars.
By the looks of things in Tiger Stadium on Saturday night, LSU is going to need the two weeks of prep time it now has thanks to its first open date of the season to have a chance of being a ready-for-prime-time player.
For the third straight game, LSU’s offensive execution was lacking to start the game. Something got discombobulated on the Tigers’ first possession between Zach Mettenberger and Odell Beckham Jr., the result being a 74-yard interception return by Furman’s Reggie Thomas and a migraine-inducing 7-0 deficit for LSU just over four minutes into the contest.
LSU coach Les Miles speaks almost daily about excelling on offense, defense and special teams. It was in all three of those areas that the Tigers were wanting for the first half.
The defense didn’t exactly get gashed by the Paladins in the first half — it surrendered a respectable 149 total yards — but it also couldn’t seem to get off the field. Time of possession may be a meaningless stat — especially when LSU raced to touchdown drives of 1:05, 56 seconds and 1:31 — but it was still shocking to see Furman with a 22:09 to 7:51 edge in that category at intermission.
Special teams were hardly special. Colby Delahoussaye, LSU’s redshirt freshman rock for its first eight games, missed his first extra point and his first field goal attempt of the season. Delahoussaye could certainly be excused because he apparently suffered a leg injury at some point during the first half (kickoff specialist James Hairston replaced him in the second), but it was almost as shocking see him miss as Metteberger’s pick six.
Beckham had no such alibi. His muffed punt just before halftime gave Furman the ball at the LSU 28 with a chance to tie the score 20-20 at intermission. The defense rose up and threw the Paladins back twice at the 1, forcing them to settle for a field goal and a 20-16 halftime deficit.
In the second half, everyone raised the level of their games for LSU. Mettenberger threw with accuracy, six of his throws overall going to Beckham for 204 yards receiving; the defense didn’t allow another point; and the Tigers’ running game did its part to flatten Furman to the tune of 672 total yards to 198 as LSU outscored the Paladins 28-0 in the final 30 minutes.
Seeing the clock wind down to zero had to be more relief than joy for the Tigers. They now have a week off to rest after nine grueling weeks to start the season before the Alabama game.
That said, the Tigers also will have to get a lot of work done. No problem with motivation or inspiration against Bama, but it will take LSU’s best effort of the season to win. Especially from the Tigers’ defense, which is still not dominant against the run and allowed Furman to convert 4 of 10 third downs and a fourth down in the first half.
So “BFAT” Tigers, at least for a week. Savor what you can from this win.
You’ve got two weeks to fix all the little light bulbs and other fine points for a game that will once again define your season.