LSU ready to take SEC West reins
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Two hours before kickoff on Saturday afternoon at Tiger Stadium, students began to pile into seats in the lower northwest corner as the day's big game in the SEC West played on the video board above and Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" bathed the whole place in sound.
Some 5½ hours later, LSU coach Les Miles, after the Tigers' 45-13 win over Kent State -- their NCAA-record 44th straight nonconference win -- inquired about the score of the Alabama-Texas A&M game, which ended after kickoff here at Death Valley.
It was 49-42, Bama.
"Oh, my goodness," Miles said, pursing his lips as he tried not to show a smile. "I kind of wanted something like that to happen."
Miles had yet to watch the tape or even highlights from College Station, Texas, so when he said he wanted something like that, it's safe to believe he wasn't talking about Mike Evans' huge receiving day or AJ McCarron's scary efficiency.
The LSU coach wanted a struggle. Maybe even a shootout. Actually, he wanted a blueprint.
The sixth-ranked Tigers don't face No. 1 Alabama until Nov. 9, with an open date before and after the Crimson Tide, then a meeting with No. 10 A&M.
On the third Saturday of September as attention focused 350 miles to the west, LSU systematically dispatched the Golden Flashes to remain unbeaten. And as much as it's possible for a program that won 85 games and played for two national titles over the past eight seasons, LSU quietly awaits as the other SEC powerhouses grab headlines.
"We pride ourselves on not getting too involved in outside noise," running back Jeremy Hill said. "That's something [offensive coordinator Cam] Cameron has always said. We go to work. We put our hard hats on every day at practice. And we practice the way we play."
Hill rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. Jarvis Landry caught a pair of touchdowns. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger played well for a third straight game. And the defense showed more signs of development.
"They're ambitious about where they want to be," Miles said of these Tigers, who opened perhaps with expectations tempered because of the record 10 underclassmen a year ago who declared early for the NFL draft.
After Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State, Florida, Ole Miss and a tuneup against Furman, the Tigers might be ready to make some noise again in the West this year. If they can survive intact until November, LSU will fly under the radar no more.
"That's something we're not going to worry about right now," Landry said. "We're going to try to get to 1-0 each week."
Fans, of course, don't have to think like players and coaches. At LSU, they're always examining the big picture -- a division title, an SEC title, a shot at the national title.
Past the Tiger Habitat adjacent to the stadium, beyond the journalism building and the Indian Mounds, a mass of tailgate celebrations resembled an oversized block party. Here, the televisions all showed the Alabama-Texas A&M game early in the third quarter, but only a few eyes watched. Most were busy with other festivities.
Farther away from the stadium, a patch of grass expanded into a large landing spot filled with trucks, grills and lawn chairs. The music was almost nonexistent. Sounds of football filled the air. They're serious about it in this spot on campus.
It's where Lance Maffuccio, 23, and Dylan Ohlsen, 22, peered out from the back of a big party. They didn't have seats, because, well, it wasn't their party. But the TV sat in their view, and they watched the whole game.
"We've been lying in the weeds since we lost to Clemson," Ohlsen said of the one-point LSU loss in the Chick-fil-A Bowl that ended last season.
Maffuccio and Ohlsen said they're pleasantly surprised with the Tigers' consistency this year. And after watching two quarters of Saturday's big game, they weren't overly impressed.
"If A&M is running up 300 yards on Bama's defense in the first 30 minutes of the game," Maffuccio said, "I don't know, it seems like we have a chance of winning the West, which is all we want."
"OK, they're waking up right now," Maffuccio said, "but we're obviously going to be improved. And Manziel is probably going to be hurt by the time we play them."
They didn't like A&M at all at this tailgate. Ohlsen said he's tired of the Aggies fans who believe their team is the second best in the SEC West.
"We definitely expect to beat A&M," Ohlsen said. "It's going to happen."
Similar confidence was on display all around the outside of Tiger Stadium. At another tailgate nearby, the fans turned away entirely from Bama-A&M. One of the three TVs, in fact, displayed Florida State's dismantling of Nevada.
Soon, though, they returned to crowd around for the finish, because when the football gets good in the SEC, these people need to see it.
It was a good showing, if a bit lopsided, back inside Tiger Stadium on Saturday night. LSU ran out to a 21-0 lead two minutes into the second quarter.
It never looked back -- only ahead.
Mettenberger has played with a renewed confidence this year. He's firing the ball with precision. Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. headline the receivers, but Travin Dural shows promise as a redshirt freshman and tight end Travis Dickson provides a threat. The Tigers are loaded in the backfield with Hill and three others who are playing well.
"With this offense, I feel like there are so many opportunities for playmakers to get the ball in their hands," Beckham Jr. said. "There are never any worries about whether the ball is coming to you."
Defensively, the Tigers replaced their entire line. Five of the early draft entrants started on the defense last season.
Athleticism rules today in the back seven, led by the likes of linebackers D.J. Welter and Kwon Alexander. Freshman cornerback Tre'Davious White and sophomore safety Micah Eugene started their first career games on Saturday.
"They're only going to get better," Landry said.
Mettenberger said he sees lots of areas to fix. He said the mental errors and sloppy play accumulated on Saturday.
"We've got to raise the stakes a little bit," the senior quarterback said. "I think we're in a good spot right. We've done some good things, but we're yet to play our best football." A few hundred fans filed into Tiger Stadium after Hill scored on a 58-yard run less than three minutes into the game. Forgive them, Alabama-Texas A&M was getting good as Evans took a 95-yard pass from Manziel. With eight minutes to play, it was a seven-point game.
Alabama held on to win.
Word of the result buzzed about in Death Valley: Another one bites the dust.
That's life in the SEC West, where the underdogs, for once, dress in purple and gold.
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