The unusually small Tiger Stadium crowd that sat through LSU’s unimpressive 38-22 victory against Towson on Saturday night offered a few boos — especially during the first half.
The Tigers trailed Towson 9-7 late in the second quarter before taking the lead but never pulling away.
As it turned out, the postgame critiques coming from the players themselves weren’t much more positive than the crowd’s response.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger said that “right now, we’re not playing LSU football,” even though the Tigers improved to 5-0.
Defensive end Lavar Edwards added: “We made a lot of mistakes. ... We have to be more consistent.”
Safety Eric Reid said: “On offense, we had turnovers and penalties, and on defense, we missed a ton of tackles.”
Defensive end Sam Montgomery said: “We just went out there and played some bad football.” He also added: “I played some bad football.”
They were all talking about a game in which they trailed an FCS team nearly halfway through it.
They were talking about a game in which they turned the ball over three times and were penalized 10 times.
They were talking about a game in which they allowed more first downs than they gained (19-18).
They were talking about their last nonconference game, which precedes a seven-game stretch against Southeastern Conference opponents that begins with a trip to No. 10 Florida at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by games against No. 6 South Carolina, Texas A&M, No. 1 Alabama, No. 20 Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas.
“We know we have to step it up from here,” Mettenberger said.
Mettenberger, who had completed more than 70 percent of his passes through the first three games, had his second consecutive game with a completion percentage in the 50s. He completed only 15 of 26 passes, but had a season-high 238 yards and two touchdowns despite being sacked four times and pressured on other occasions.
“I’m disappointed in my performance tonight,” said Mettenberger, who lost a fumble on one of the sacks. It was his third lost fumble in two games, giving him five turnovers through five games.
The fumbling extended to LSU’s running backs, who had kept a much better grip on the ball during the first four games.
Kenny Hilliard’s lost fumble late in the first quarter — the first in his two seasons — was the first fumble by a Tigers running back in 225 carries. Michael Ford, whose fumble against Arkansas last season had been the last fumble by a running back, lost one in the second half. Additionally, Hilliard and Spencer Ware had fumbles that LSU recovered, meaning LSU put the ball on the ground five times.
“It is not productive, and it is not the football we are used to,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I can’t tell you the last time that we put the ball on the ground five times in a game. I’ve been around here eight years. There is not one. We’re going to tighten it up comfortably.”
The postgame theme around the Tigers was that they’ll be better when they play the Gators on Saturday afternoon.
“I thought that if we don’t turn the ball over or throw the ball on the ground and we protect our quarterback,” Miles said, “then this thing looks like it’s supposed to.”
It was supposed to look a lot more lopsided, with a team ranked No. 3 going into the game playing a team from a lower classification.
“We played good at times; other times we didn’t,” Edwards said. “We didn’t play like we’re used to playing and how we should have played.”
Though the LSU defense has been the most consistent unit on the team, it had an erratic performance, as well. Towson surpassed the highest point total by a Tigers opponent this season by eight points and its 291 yards also were the most by an LSU opponent.
“It definitely isn’t something we’re accustomed to doing,” Edwards said of the 22 points allowed, the most LSU has given up since a 40-27 victory against Oregon in the 2011 season opener.
The Tigers, who had 14 tackles for loss against Auburn, had half that many against Towson.
Though Miles admitted he was “alarmed” by his team’s self-inflicted problems, he added: “I think we are a good football team, and there are things that we need to get accomplished this week.”
They’re likely the same things LSU tried but failed to get accomplished last week.
“We’ll get back to LSU football this week,” Montgomery said.