- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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It feels like ages ago when LSU was considered the nation’s elite team.
That’s old news.
There’s a new top dog, and its name is Alabama. All that attention LSU garnered coming out of summer was dumped into the Gulf and washed up on Alabama’s shores.
While the Tigers are currently playing second fiddle in the SEC -- and nationally -- they aren’t concerned about not being the center of attention.
“The real good teams, we don’t care about what other people say,” LSU junior defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “We don’t care about the attention. We don’t care about the publicity, and we don’t care what anybody thinks. All that matters is that we get a ‘W’ and play hard-nosed football between the lines.
“Attention here or attention there doesn’t matter. We’re going to ball out anyway.”
And the second-ranked Tigers (3-0) have done that through the first three weeks.
Quietly, the Tigers have pounded their way to leading the SEC in rushing, averaging 269.3 yards per game. Like last season, LSU is making running the ball look simple with a stacked backfield led by sophomore Kenny Hilliard, who is third in the SEC with 303 rushing yards and first with six touchdowns.
The defense has been just as dominant, even without Tyrann Mathieu making a mess of things for opposing offenses. While the level of competition is far from what it was at this time last season for LSU, the Tigers have done their job. They’re only allowing 205 yards per game, which leads the SEC, and have outscored opponents 145-31.
Last year, LSU played very similar ball, but went through most of the season as the nation’s most complimented team. The 2011 Tigers took down a handful of ranked teams and were draped in the limelight.
That’s not the case this season, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger said it’s nice not having all that attention.
“It definitely lessens distractions, for sure,” Mettenberger said. “It makes it easier for us to stop sometimes and have fun. If we can just keep going out there, making good plays, we’ll be fine.”
So far, the Tigers have been more than fine. The offense isn’t terribly exciting with a less-than-flashy passing game and a bullying running game, but that style wins games. Alabama seems to be doing well with that same recipe, and it’s what earned the Tigers 13 straight wins in 2011.
“Coach [Les] Miles’ philosophy is to win anyway that we can to win football games,” Mettenberger said. “Shoot, last year we ran the ball really good and this year we’re running the ball really well, and we’re building off that with the pass game. We’re not going to try and be something we’re not.”
What LSU isn’t is a high-flying offensive threat. But it is a tough, punch-you-in-the-mouth squad that has used last season’s rugged formula to get through the first three games of the season.
Despite the continuing flow of distractions that started with the dismissal of the Honey Badger (Mathieu), LSU has stayed the course as it enters its first SEC game against Auburn (1-2) on Saturday. To Mettenberger, not mixing drama with football has yet again been LSU’s mantra.
“Football is kind of our outlet,” he said. “We never really bring baggage into our football operations building. That’s just not going to help.”
LSU might not be getting the love it deserves nationally, but there’s no doubting how good this team has been. The Tigers still look like a national championship contender, and the only team that could trip up Alabama.
The Tigers don’t need attention to be good, and as Montgomery puts it, keeping the praise away from Baton Rouge is a good thing.
“Attention can get you lackadaisical,” he said. “Attention can get you lazy. But the one thing that you have to stay true to is yourself, and how you have that quest to get better when you get on the field.
“You have to realize that if you’re still in college, you haven’t even reached your dreams to play at the next level, so why should you take a play off? Why should you go soft? There’s no reason to.”
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