Tigers sport several first-time players vs. UNT
Program sales should have been brisk at Tiger Stadium for LSU’s season opener against North Texas on Saturday night.
A fresh roster would have come in handy as several Tigers made their first appearances, others made their first starts, and others assumed new roles in the 41-14 victory.
Four players made their first starts: quarterback Zach Mettenberger, left guard La’El Collins, linebacker Luke Muncie and cornerback Jalen Mills, who was one of 12 true freshmen to play
The others were linebackers Deion Jones, Kwon Alexander, Ronnie Feist and Lorenzo Phillips, safeties Corey Thompson and Jerqwinick Sandolph, tackle Vadal Alexander, tight end Dillon Gordon, defensive lineman Danielle Hunter, punter Jamie Keehn and long snapper Reid Ferguson.
Jones, Alexander, Feist and Phillips comprise two-thirds of a talented group of true freshmen linebackers that the LSU coaches have praised as not only being talented but advanced enough to contribute right away.
The other two are Trey Granier and Lamar Louis.
When starting weakside linebacker Lamin Barrow was shaken up briefly in the first half Saturday, Jones, who played at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, was the first freshman linebacker to play on defense. He immediately broke through for a tackle for a 7-yard loss. Jones finished with two tackles, as did Alexander, who also recovered a fumble.
Eight players who aren’t true freshmen made their first appearances as Tigers — cornerback Jalen Collins, safety Micah Eugene, defensive lineman Jeremy Peeples, center Elliott Porter, guard Trai Turner, offensive lineman Evan Washington, wide receiver Paul Turner and quarterback Stephen Rivers.
“It was the young guys’ first game in Tiger Stadium,” junior defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. “They were nervous, but now they have their first game under their belt. As the season goes on, they’ll learn from their mistakes and play better.”
Strong safety Craig Loston made his first start since the Cotton Bowl victory against Texas A&M at the end of the 2010 season, and guard Josh Dworaczyk, who missed last season because of a knee injury, played for the first time since the Cotton Bowl.
LSU’s rearranged depth chart at tailback was on display, as Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard assumed their lead roles. Blue had the most carries (16) and gained 123 yards. Hilliard had the greatest impact, gaining a career-high 141 yards and scoring two touchdowns on 13 carries.
Hilliard continued a trend that began at midseason last year as his touchdowns continue to mount at a rapid rate. He tied for the team lead with eight touchdowns last season and now has eight scores in his last six games and 10 in his 14 career games.
“We made a few mistakes,” Hilliard said, “but overall, I give credit to the offensive line for neutralizing the perimeter. Overall, I think we played a good game.”
Michael Ford — the Tigers’ leading rusher a year ago, who just regained his academic eligibility on Friday — had 50 yards on eight carries. Spencer Ware, the starting tailback a year ago who was slowed by injury during preseason camp, did not play.
“I liked our backs,” coach Les Miles said. “I think Blue is really going to have a good fall. He is quicker, stronger and more capable. I think Kenny Hilliard is ready to play. I didn’t mind Michael Ford.
“We’re going to have very good tailback play. We need to shore up some things and get better. If we line up and make some simple adjustments, we probably add another 70 yards to our total.”
LSU rushed for 316 yards and Mettenberger passed for 192, giving the Tigers 508 total yards. It was the first time the Tigers accumulated 500 yards in a game since they had 595 in a 58-10 victory against Louisiana Tech on Nov. 10, 2007.
Despite the large number of yards gained, the Tigers were sloppy at times, as evidenced in part by their 10 penalties for 55 yards.
“The game that we had, it was kind of sloppy,” Beckham said. “It’s the first game and there’s going to be mistakes you make, and you just have to work hard to fix them. It just feels good to be back out there.”
The defense allowed just 219 yards, but did give up touchdown passes of 80 yards and 15 yards.
“The first game is never going to be perfect,” Logan said. “On defense we made mistakes as a whole. The good thing is that this was the first game of the season and not the last, so we will be able to go look at the film and correct our mistakes.”