ARLINGTON, Texas — Gamesmanship, intrigue, insanity and a dramatic finish.
The seasons may change, but in the end it was just another wild Saturday night with the LSU Tigers.
LSU’s 37-27 win against TCU in the Cowboys Classic was seriously thrilling and needlessly dramatic all at the same time, a flavorful first course despite the slightly antiseptic concrete-jacketed splendor of Jerry Jones’ AT&T Stadium.
The only thing this game was missing was being surrounded by a verdant green campus. It had a dose of everything else that makes college football both maddening and irresistible.
In a game that ended up having the feel of a heavyweight bout, the week preceding the LSU-TCU game was filled with the kind of preening and posturing worthy of an Ali-Frazier thrilla.
TCU coach Gary Patterson refused to say whether Casey Pachall or Trevone Boykin would start at quarterback. They both started, Pachall at quarterback Boykin as a slot receiver, a sly wink of a wrinkle aimed at both tweaking LSU and illustrating the dangers to come for the Extreme Makeover edition of an LSU defense that lost seven starters to April’s NFL draft.
Peterson also refused to let his players talk to reporters who cover LSU, a silly example of coaching paranoia (They may put something on the bulletin board!) that simply must be addressed by the Big 12. He also refused to confirm that All-American defensive end Devonte Fields would serve the first of an announced two-game suspension (he did), partially it seemed because LSU never confirmed Jeremy Hill was suspended.
He was. Hill dressed and took pregame warmups, but otherwise spent the entire night standing on the LSU sideline like an ornamental shrub.
Miles didn’t want to give away a competitive edge to the obsessively competitive Patterson by saying Hill wouldn’t play.
He needn’t have worried so much.
Even without Hill’s considerable talents, and even though the Tigers stubbornly ran frequently between the tackles into the teeth of TCU’s defense, LSU still amassed 197 yards rushing and finished with a healthy 448 yards overall.
If you want to look for someone to be happy for after this game, be happy for Tigers tailback Terrence Magee. The junior has been yanked between tailback and receiver and back again, but with Hill not playing he delivered by far what was his career night in a clutch performance.
Magee led all comers with 95 yards on 13 carries with a pair of touchdowns, including a Cowboys Classic 52-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter.
Clearly everyone wanted to see what sort of effect eight months of intensive work with new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would have on Zach Mettenberger’s play.
The first reviews have to be positive. Mettenberger batted only .500 — 16 of 32 — but was victimized by some dropped throws once again. He threw for 251 yards and was deadly accurate time after time, often on third down when LSU was an amazing 13 of 19 moving the chains.
With all of its turnover in personnel, LSU needs Mettenberger to play this way if the Tigers are to successfully navigate a difficult schedule filled with icebergs. For one night at lest, Mettenberger delivered.
As for Cameron’s influence, runs between the tackles were offset by bunch formations, up tempo plays, end arounds and plenty enough passing to suit even the most jaded Miles detractor.
Well, maybe not that much. But when do you remember LSU keeping in two backs on max protection and still finding a way to send out three receivers?
LSU was on the receiving end of a bizarre first-half ending when officials ran off the last five seconds for La’El Collins’ helmet coming off, then bringing TCU back on the field for an LSU field goal because of an incomplete pass on the previous play.
Shades of the end of the Tennessee game in 2010, but somehow the wackiness ended with LSU singing the alma mater.
In other words, a typical Saturday night with the Tigers.