LSU staggered its way to a two-touchdown advantage going into halftime against overmatched Idaho on Saturday night.
In fact, the Tigers needed a touchdown pass from Zach Mettenberger to Jarvis Landry in the final minute of the second quarter to take that large a lead.
However, LSU rebounded with a dominant final 30 minutes in which it scored five touchdowns. As a result, the Tigers scored their most points in 15 seasons in a 63-14 victory against the visiting Vandals.
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"We picked it up in the second half," said Alex Hurst, who moved from right tackle to left tackle after halftime Josh Dworaczyk suffered a calf injury. "A few of our leaders spoke at halftime. They said that we needed to pick it up on offense. We were pretty sloppy in the first half."
The defense got things going after halftime when end Lavar Edwards intercepted a Dominique Blackman pass and returned the ball 23 yards for a touchdown. The offense, which was held to fewer than 200 first-half yards, gained nearly 300 in the last two quarters.
The big difference in the second half for LSU was the ground-game production. Limited to 67 yards in the first half, the Tigers ran nearly 200 yards rushing after the break. Kenny Hilliard got things going with a 71-yard touchdown run. He added a 1-yard run to cap a nine-play, 87-yard scoring drive.
"I was patient on the long run," Hilliard said. "I saw a cut-back lane and I was able to hit it. I saw nothing but green grass. In the first half, (running game) didn't contribute.
"We were upset with the way we played in the first half. Idaho was playing hard. They wanted it more than us. We made some adjustments at halftime and caught fire."
Jeremy Hill, who received his first playing time of the year, scored the Tigers' final two touchdowns on runs of four and eight yards. The four-yarder capped a 10-play, 78-yard drive. The eight-yard score came after a Jalen Mills interception put the ball at the Vandals' 18.
"The seniors let everybody know at halftime that we are better than how we played," said Russell Shepard, who gained 68 yards on three receptions. "Nothing else was said."
Mettenberger took the blame for the poor first half. LSU had a 14-0 lead and had the ball at Idaho's 8 early in the second quarter. Mettenberger forced a pass near the goal line. Gary Walker intercepted the pass and returned the ball 94 yards to the Tigers' 5. Odell Beckham tackled Walker from behind.
With the ball at LSU's 4, Blackman connected with Michael LaGrone for a touchdown. After Ronald Martin returned a deflected interception 45 yards for a touchdown, the Tigers defense yielded an 81-yard touchdown drive. Tharold Simon was beat on a 22-yard scoring pass.
"I really put the slow start on myself," Mettenberger said. "If I don't throw the interception in the red zone, we are up 21-0. Throwing that interception really gave them life. I put the first half solely on myself."
Mettenberger finished the night with 17 passes in 22 completions for 222 yards and two touchdowns - a 17-yarder to Kadron Boone and the 7-yarder to Landry. In the second half, Mettenberger was eight of nine for 105 yards. He was sacked three times, twice in the first half.
The LSU offensive line looked a little different in the second half. Center P.J. Lonergan, who had a minor injury, was replaced in the starting lineup by Elliott Porter. Lonergan entered the game in the second quarter and played much of the second half.
Then, the injury to Dworaczyk necessitated the move of Hurst from right tackle to left tackle. True freshman Vadal Alexander took over at right tackle in the second half.
"Dworaczyk was a little nicked," Hurst said. "I have been working on the left side in practice if something happened to Josh. Going from the right side to the left side, the plays are really the same. I was just flipping in my head what I would have to do.
"It took us a little while to get used to what Idaho was doing on defense. We made some adjustments at halftime and everything was fine."
Alfred Blue suffered what could be a serious injury in the first half. Blue injured his left knee and was on crutches at the end of the game. LSU coach Les Miles was hopeful that the injury wasn't that bad. Blue gained 46 yards on ten carries. Hilliard led LSU with 116 yards on 11 attempts.
The Tigers defense held Idaho to fewer than 100 yards in the second half. After completing 12 of 15 passes in the first half, Blackman was just 8-of-21 in the last two quarters. The Vandals rushed for only 17 yards after halftime.
"I think our football team was imperfect," Miles said. "Everyone can see that we can be a dominant football team. We need to eliminate some mistakes in the red zone. Frankly, we will learn from this game and we will be better for it. We will improve."
The Tigers set two records with the victory. LSU has now won 40 consecutive regular-season non-conference games - a Division I FBS record. The Tigers have also won 20 straight home games - a school record.
"I want to commend this team again," Miles said. "Those numbers are nice to look at after the games are over. No one cares about those numbers until after the game is played."