LSU tops McNeese State, 34-7, to take steps in positive direction
LSU could only do so much Saturday to respond to its laundry list of concerns entering the week.
The Tigers (1-1) showed defensive progress and a few flashes for offensive promise to top McNeese State, 34-6, for their first victory of the season.
But coach Ed Orgeron and company will have plenty of work still ahead with Central Michigan visiting next week before opening SEC play Sept. 25 at Mississippi State.
"Overall, we're pleased with the win," he said. " I thought from Game One to Game Two, we made a jump in a lot of areas. And now we need to make a jump next week in a lot of areas."
LSU held the FCS Cowboys (0-2) to just 142 yards — 51 rushing and 91 passing — and recorded seven sacks of quarterback Cody Orgeron, Ed's son.
Freshman defensive tackle Maason Smith and senior defensive end Andre Anthony led the pass rush with 3.0 sacks and 2.5 sacks, respectively.
Underclassman defensive ends B.J. Ojulari and Desmond Little each added a sack and senior safety Cameron Lewis recorded 0.5 sacks in extensive playing time in the absences of Jay Ward and Todd Harris Jr.
And sophomore defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy swatted a ball free behind the line of scrimmage and snatched the recovery for the game's lone turnover.
"Man, I wish we had this energy last week," Anthony said. "But it was a learning lesson last week. We knew what we had to do. Life lessons. We came out and knew what we had to do, did that, so now we've gotta keep the same energy going forward no matter who we play."
LSU never quite sustained a consistent stride on the other side of the ball, though.
The Tigers once again struggled up front — this time with tackles Cam Wire and Austin Deculus, right guard Chasen Hines and versatile Anthony Bradford all unavailable.
A pair of Max Johnson touchdown passes to Trey Palmer and Kayshon Boutte, separated by three unsuccessful possessions, highlighted an otherwise sluggish first half of offense.
Armoni Goodwin and Tyrion Davis-Price each broke a 21-yarder to help buoy the rushing numbers up to 62 yards on 20 carries (3.1 yards per attempt).
And receivers again left some opportunities on the turf with dropped passes.
"As an offense, I'm really not disappointed, but I feel like we should've done more," Boutte said. "It should've never been a close game at all. We should've really put up 60, but you've gotta learn from your mistakes."
The team failed to convert its first four third-down opportunities en route to 2-for-8 at the midway mark and 4-for-16 for the contest.
LSU finished with 306 yards — 180 passing and 126 rushing — for an average of 4.2 yards per play.
"Not good enough," Orgeron said. "It starts with protection first. We have to protect the quarterback, and we have to get better. We have to stay ahead of the chains. We have to continue to make improvements and, hopefully with our offensive line coming back, we're going to have better protection for our quarterback and better schemes."
Junior kicker Cade York added a pair of extra-points and the first of his two record-setting field goals of the night to provide a 17-0 lead at the break.
His 55-yarder was the longest in the history of Tiger Stadium — until his eventual 56-yarder in the fourth quarter.
"It's pretty freakin' sweet," Johnson smiled. "We get across the 50, and we think we're in field-goal range. And we are."
LSU ended another three-possession scoring drought during the middle of the game with a second Johnson-to-Boutte connection in the final minutes of the third quarter.
And York's second record-setting kick pushed the margin to 27-0 five seconds into the fourth.
"I really liked the first one," York said. "The second one was a little bit of a pull. I cut it a little too close. But, I mean, you can't really complain. It's three points on the board."
Johnson finished 18-for-27 for 161 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, and Boutte had five catches for 31 yards.
But the flashes shown by a few freshmen on offense became a primary talking point in the second half.
Wide receiver Jack Bech caught all four of his targets for a team-high 57 yards in his Tiger Stadium debut, where his uncles Blain and Brett played decades earlier.
Garrett Nussmeier relieved Johnson late in the third and completed three of 10 passes for 19 yards.
"Good in spots," Orgeron said. "The guy's been phenomenal in practice. I think he did very well. Didn't make the big plays like I thought he would. But I think he was running for his life some of the time. A couple of times, his passes were dropped, but I thought he did pretty good."
And Corey Kiner rattled off the team's biggest run of the night for a 23-yard touchdown in the fourth to lead the running backs with 56 yards on 11 carries.
Davis-Price added 37 yards on eight attempts.
"We tried to get the run game going outside," Orgeron said. "We had several linemen that were out, but we had a variety of runs: speed sweeps, tosses, counters outside. We still had some protection problems. We need to look at it. Whether it's personnel or whether it's scheme, we need to fix it, because people are still gonna come after us."