ARLINGTON, Texas — The LSU football team unveiled lots of new stuff and came away Saturday night with what’s becoming old hat — an impressive prime-time victory in the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium.
The No. 12 Tigers unleashed a bolder passing offense, leaned on a bevy of new players and defeated No. 20 TCU 37-27 in their season opener in the Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium.
The victory followed a different script but was reminiscent of two other victories here in the opulent site once known as the new Cowboys Stadium — a 40-27 victory over No. 3 Oregon in the season opener two years ago and a 41-24 win against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl eight months before that.
Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, making his debut in this building, looked right at home directing first-year coordinator Cam Cameron’s offense as LSU used the pass to set up the run instead of the opposite pattern that has been its trademark in head coach Les Miles’ previous eight seasons.
The Tigers had more passing yards (251) than rushing (197) and had two receivers with 100 receiving yards for the first time in 12 years as Jarvis Landry (eight catches, 109 yards and a touchdown) and Odell Beckham Jr. (five for 118) matched the feat of Josh Reed and Michael Clayton against Kentucky in 2001.
Beckham didn’t get into the end zone, but his 75-yard kickoff return set up Landry’s clinching touchdown on a third-down, 20-yard pass from Mettenberger, who completed 16 of 32, with 6:09 left.
“(Landry and Beckham) are two of our best players,” Mettenberger said. “We wouldn’t be doing our best if we didn’t find a way to get them the ball.”
Miles said the passing performance was “exactly” what he envisioned when he hired Cameron to take over the offense from line coach Greg Studrawa in the offseason. “I expect Zach will perform like that pretty routinely moving forward,” Miles said. “We were much better on offense.
“There were great things. We controlled the game the entire time. There are some things we need to fix. The things we did right we need to do over and over again. I felt like Cam Cameron made his debut at LSU with a very, very strong job.”
By no means did LSU forget about its running game, but much of its success didn’t come until after Mettenberger and the receivers softened up a Frogs defense that contained the run in the first half.
Terrence Magee, seeing the most extensive playing time in his three-year career in the absence of Jeremy Hill, who was held out of the game in the wake of recent legal troubles, had a career-high 95 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Starter Alfred Blue had another 95 yards on 19 carries.
“Terrence Magee is a talented guy,” Miles said. “The people inside this program know what a great kid he is and how hard he works. He has the ability and, if he has the opportunity, he’s going to make that kind of contribution throughout the year.”
Magee wasn’t the only fresh face to find his way into the spotlight: Defensive ends Jordan Allen, Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco had big nights.
“It looked like the LSU defense to me,” Miles said after a unit with eight new starters haled the Frogs to 259 yards.
TCU coach Gary Patterson said even in defeat he thought his team played about as well as it could have on both sides of the ball.
“This is a confidence boost for us,” he said.
LSU led just 16-10 after a first half in which it could have led by more, settling for three field goals. The third came in a bizarre sequence at the end of the half in which two penalties moved the Tigers from the TCU 2 to the 12, where they settled for a 23-yard field goal by redshirt freshman Colby Delahoussaye, who was 3-for-3 in his debut.
TCU went for a big play on the first play of the third quarter on a deep pass, but Jalen Mills intercepted Casey Pachall’s throw at the Tigers 34.
“The momentum was high for both sides, so I felt like I had to make a play,” Mills said. “I actually tried to bait (Pachall). I acted like I was going to press, then I bailed out.”
Three plays later, Magee dashed 52 yards around the left end for a touchdown.
B.J. Catalon, who scored on a 100-yard kickoff return in the first half, ran 26 yards for a touchdown that got the Frogs within 23-17.
LSU drove to Magee’s 3-yard touchdown that gave the Tigers a 13-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
“Coach Miles has believed in me since I got here,” Magee said. “I just had to stay the course and be patient.”
TCU took the momentum back early in the fourth quarter after Waymon James ran 5 yards for a touchdown and a 28-yard punt by Jamie Keehn gave them the ball at the Tigers 48. The Frogs gained two first downs, but Hunter and Rasco combined on a sack of Trevone Boykin that derailed the drive.
Jaden Oberkrom’s 39-yard field goal cut the lead to three, but Beckham’s kickoff return and Landry’s touchdown put LSU back in control.
“It was a sloppy opener at times for us,” Miles said, “but all in all, when you open on the road against a quality opponent and put 448 yards on them, it’s a nice start. This program is 3-0 in this stadium, We certainly have enjoyed that.”