Monday was a fun day at the office for the LSU Tigers.
Coach Les Miles began his first news luncheon of the season by saying how happy he and his team were to be back in a game-week routine.
Countless players said they were eager to play a game, to hit someone other than their teammates, especially No. 3 Oregon on Saturday night in the nationally televised opener in Cowboys Stadium.
Throw in several recent off-the-field distractions, including the indefinite suspension of three players, and the start of the first game week was a breath of fresh air, albeit really hot and humid.
“I can tell you that I have been looking forward for this day,” Miles said. “It marks the beginning of game week. It allows a football coach, staff and team to focus on the task at hand.
“I think our guys are looking forward to playing another team. I think all of us are looking forward to football.”
Starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson and reserve linebacker Josh Johns were suspended Friday after being charged with second-degree battery, which is a felony, for their involvement in a bar fight a week earlier.
Two players who remain on the team - freshman wide receiver Jarvis Landry and reserve tackle Chris Davenport - also were interviewed by Baton Rouge police, but haven’t been charged. Several other players were at the scene of the altercation after breaking curfew on the night after preseason camp ended.
Wide receiver Russell Shepard has also been suspended indefinitely for violating an NCAA regulation.
So there has been a lot of stuff for this team to deal with beside preparations for the Ducks. But Monday, and presumably the rest of the week, was about nothing but getting ready for the Ducks.
“I was asked last week, ￔCan you feel that you’re playing Oregon yet?’” center P.J. Lonergan said. “No, I couldn’t, but (Monday) I could. When it’s game week and you’re a few days away, you can start tasting it.
“You come in and coach Miles gives you the report and he breaks down Oregon’s team and it clicks. OK, it’s the beginning of game week. We’re getting the report. It’s definitely a different feeling. It feels good.”
Several players said it was easy to tell Monday’s practice was a game-week practice, which is different from a preseason practice.
“Today’s practice showed a lot of energy and enthusiasm throughout each period,” wide receiver Rueben Randle said, “which we hadn’t usually been showing throughout camp.”
This offseason and preseason have been abnormal, but guard Will Blackwell said the first game week is always special.
“Every offseason is taxing,” he said. “The amount of time and work that you put in just to finally be able to play, and now we’re at the time where we can finally play, so it’s a huge relief to not have to worry about going to camp meetings or camp practices, and finally getting prepared for someone else.
“I’m tired of going against (defensive tackles) Michael Brockers and Benny Logan and those guys. I want to go against somebody who’s not an LSU Tiger.”
The players received a bonus when Miles eliminated the extra running that had been a daily punishment for the curfew-breaking.
“The season is going to start,” running back Alfred Blue said, “so they’re not going to kill us too much. It’s a good thing to have behind us, but it’s a lesson learned.”
Getting ready for any season opener would get the team pumped up, but when you’re No. 4 in the preseason poll and you’re opening against No. 3 on a national stage, it just adds to the anticipation.
“All we have to focus on now is beating Oregon,” Blue said. “That’s everybody’s mindset right now: Beat Oregon and make a statement. We had a little incident, and we put it behind us. We’ve got to show the world that we’re LSU and this is what we do and beat Oregon.”
Lonergan said preseason camp was a lot like getting ready for a bowl game. He said even as the Tigers were preparing themselves for the season, “In the back of your mind, Oregon was there.
“You know who you’re playing, and now your focus is solely on that,” Lonergan said. “You don’t worry about who you’re playing the next week. You don’t worry about what happened back in camp. That’s all you’re focused on, and it does make it a lot easier to focus on that team.”
Miles and the players pride themselves on leaving nonfootball issues behind them when they cross the white lines onto a football field. But that might get a little easier to do the closer that game day gets.
“What better way to get rid of the distractions than to play a ballgame,” linebacker Ryan Baker said. “Guys are ready to get this out of the way and start our season.”
So is the head coach.
“If they are anything like their coach,” Miles said, “they feel like they’ve been pent up and they’re ready to pursue victory.”