Early in the game, a buzz went through Tiger Stadium as former LSU basketball great Shaquille O’Neal walked behind the South end zone to the home sideline.
Moments later, the crowd roared when O’Neal was introduced, and it cheered again as the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2011 was recognized.
Almost as a backdrop, the Tigers football team rolled over Northwestern State 49-3 in its home opener Saturday night.
No. 2 LSU made short work of the outmanned Demons before heading into a short week to prepare for its Southeastern Conference opener at No. 16 Mississippi State on Thursday.
The Tigers wanted to sharpen their passing game after accumulating just 98 yards on 10 completions (in 22 attempts) in an otherwise impressive 40-27 victory against Oregon in the season opener a week earlier.
Mission accomplished, as LSU passed for 225 yards on 17 completions (in 21 attempts) while outgaining Northwestern State 400-95. The Tigers held the Demons to minus-4 yards on 27 rushes - the first time LSU held an opponent to negative yards rushing since Oct. 20, 1982 when it limited Ole Miss to minus-50.
“I like the way our team played this game,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I felt that we came out and played with intensity in all three phases. The defense played like it’s supposed to. No matter who came into the game, they played the same way. The offense was more efficient. We threw it and caught it well. We rushed the ball when we had to, and we had control of the situation.”
Miles said during the week he wouldn’t consider resting starters until victory was assured. Apparently he felt comfortable with a 28-3 halftime lead, as he put heralded transfer quarterback Zach Mettenberger in place of starter Jarrett Lee, who was 9-for-10 for 133 yards and a touchdown, to start the third quarter.
Mettenberger picked up where Lee left off, completing his first four passes for 44 yards in leading the Tigers to Michael Ford’s 7-yard touchdown run to start the second half.
Two possessions later, Mettenberger completed 2 of 3 passes for 22 yards during a 57-yard drive that ended with Alfred Blue running four yards for a touchdown and a 42-3 lead.
LSU completed the scoring in the fourth quarter when Mettenberger threw a 19-yard touchdown to Kadron Boone on third-and-15. Mettenberger finished 8 of 11 for 92 yards and a touchdown.
Mettenberger wasn’t the only player to see playing time or added time because of the lopsided score.
Eight Tigers carried the ball, with Ford getting 72 yards and two touchdowns on 13 rushes, Blue getting 57 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and Spencer Ware getting two touchdowns, though just 20 yards, on six carries.
Seven LSU payers caught passes, with Rueben Randle leading the way with five catches for 121 yards a week after catching just one pass for 10 yards.
“We tried to put more of an emphasis on the passing game this week,” Lee said. “We still ran the ball real well. We played smart tonight. Overall, I think we did a pretty good job.”
Demons quarterback Brad Henderson completed 16 of-26 passes for 74 yards and an interception and ran five times for minus-7 yards.
“They were pretty impressive on television, and they are even more impressive in person,” Demons coach Bradley Dale Peveto, a former LSU assistant at LSU under Miles, said of the Tigers. “The speed is what you cannot really tell on video and on television. That is a fast, fast football team. They get edges that you do not think they are going to get.
“They are very talented, very fast, very physical. They are as physical a football team as I’ve watched in a long time.”
The Tigers set the tone on their first offensive play with a 43-yard completion from Lee to Randle. Ford, who got the start ahead of Ware at tailback, carried four times for a total of 20 yards before Lee tossed a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Deangelo Peterson.
“We knew going out there before the game started that we were going to take a shot downfield,” Randle said. “I was really excited before the play started. I saw the cornerback cheating in. I kind of got matched up with the safety and beat him deep.”
The Demons (0-2 going into their game at SMU next Saturday) forced a punt on LSU’s next possession and pulled within 7-3 on John Shaughnessy’s historic 44-yard field goal on the third play of the second quarter. That represented the first points scored by Northwestern State in 11 games against LSU all-time.
The Tigers went to the running game as Ford carried five times for 39 yards, leading to Ware’s 1-yard touchdown run and a 14-3 lead.
Defensive tackle Michael Brockers made a diving interception of a Henderson pass, giving LSU a first down at the Northwestern State 15-yard line.
“They had run that play before, and it got past me,” Brockers said. “When I saw it coming again, the quarterback was under pressure and just kind of lofted the ball. I was able to get out of my block and grab it.
“I didn’t want it to fall out of my hands so I just curled up. I didn’t want to let it hit the ground. It was an athletic play, and I’m an athletic guy.”
Two plays later, Ware ran 6 yards for a touchdown and a 21-3 lead.
After Tigers place-kicker Drew Alleman was wide left on a 50-yard field goal attempt, the Demons drove into scoring range late in the second quarter. But on fourth-and-5, an errant snap got away from Henderson and the Tigers took over at their 48.
With 50 seconds remaining in the half, Lee went to work, passing to Odell Beckham for 11 yards, Ware for 10 and Randle for 28. At that point, Lee was 9-for-9 for 133 yards. After Lee overthrew Peterson for his only incompletion of the game, Ford ran 3 yards for a touchdown and a 28-3 halftime lead.
“To be able to put that many runners into the game is a great thing,” Ford said. “Every time we go in, we’re fresh. That puts pressure on the defense, because they’re tired and we come in fresh.”
The Tigers ran fresh players in throughout the second half without much of a drop-off, though running back Jakhari Gore lost a fumble in the fourth quarter.
LSU emphasized during the week the importance of putting the Oregon win behind them and not looking past Northwestern State to Mississippi State.
“Mentally, our team is at a different level,” defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “We’re focused on bigger things. For us to reset like we just did is not a problem. Our team did very well focusing on this game, and now it’s time to move on to the next one.”