By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Oh to be a fly on the wall privy to whatever fire Ed Orgeron breathed to his team during halftime.
“I wouldn’t call it an ass chewing,” Ethan Pocic began. “Maybe on defense, but on offense, we just said we needed to do better. We’ve got to execute.”
LSU sleepwalked through much of an unsightly first half to find itself in a 10-10 deadlock with Southern Miss at Tiger Stadium on Saturday night, but by the end of the third quarter, the expected rout was on.
Simply put, it was a wakeup call. And the message got through loud and clear.
“It was good, believe me,” Orgeron laughed, pressed for specifics.
Derrius Guice ripped off touchdowns runs of 61 and 20 yards within a span of three minutes, and Danny Etling hooked up with D.J. Chark and Malachi Dupre for scoring strikes of 80 and 63 yards, respectively.
LSU (4-2) scored 35 unanswered second-half points — all coming on five touchdowns of 20 yards of longer — to wallop Southern Miss (4-3) 45-10 in game two of the Orgeron Era.
LSU looked rusty out of the gate. Perhaps the residue from an unscheduled and unwanted bye week. Maybe a lack of fire or respect for a non-conference foe.
Two costly penalties — one an illegal substitution on a punt — extended the game’s opening drive and Southern Miss capitalized, marching 75 yards and holding the ball for more than eight minutes before Ito Smith punched in a one-yard touchdown.
“We had too many penalties,” defensive end Lewis Neal said. “We stopped them like three times and the penalties gave them first downs.”
The Tigers drew even after the two sides traded three-and-outs on the following possessions. Guice got the drive started with an 11-yard dash. Etling found DeSean Smith between two defenders for a 25-yard gain and Chark scored on a 19-yard jet sweep around the right side.
LSU and Southern Miss traded field goals in a sloppily played second quarter. The Tigers gained just 121 yards of total offense in the first half against a defense that got eviscerated for 55 points by Frank Wilson and UTSA last week.
Penalties were a constant. The two on the opening drive spotted Southern Miss a 7-0 lead, and a holding call in the second quarter wiped out a Donte Jackson kickoff return that broke across midfield. The ensuing drive stalled around midfield because of a pair of pre-snap penalties.
“Just a lot of angry faces,” Jamal Adams said of halftime. “A lot of screaming. We just wasn’t in synch. We came out flat. We just wanted to come out in the second half and play our ball.”
It was LSU’s reshuffled offensive line that got the ball rolling in the second half. Guice cut through a hole wide enough to drive an 18-wheeler through and glided into the end zone untouched from 61 yards out on the third play of the second half.
“You just need one lane for Derrius,” Pocic said. “He hits that hole, it’s hard to stop him. There’s no whistle with him. He just keeps running.”
Then, three plays into the ensuing drive, LSU safety Jamal Adams drilled running back George Payne in the hole, forced a fumble and then recovered it.
Two plays later, Guice was back in the end zone after a weaving dash to the left pylon. He finished the night with 162 yards on 16 carries in his second consecutive game shouldering the featured load while Leonard Fournette continued to rest his ailing ankle.
“It’s a lot of momentum,” Adams said of the quick 14-0 run. “When we’re at home and we’re on our P’s and Q’s, it’s hard to beat us.”
The game stabilized for bit before Etling and the Tiger passing attack began to heat up for the first time. Etling found D.J. Chark on a 10-yard buttonhook to begin a drive, and the speedster turned it into an 80-yard catch-and-run score. Chark also scored LSU’s first touchdown on a jet sweep.
LSU’s defense made a stand on fourth-and-1 in its own territory to snuff out the ensuing drive and any remaining hope Southern Miss had of closing the gap.
Etling then went back up top, taking advantage of a coverage breakdown to hit an unguarded Malachi Dupre on the deep post for his first touchdown of the season. They’d hook up for another score in the fourth quarter, a 23-yard connection completed by a fantastic catch.
The Tigers wound up posting a season-high in points scored despite the sluggish start. It’s a testament to the emphasis Orgeron has placed on making big plays since taking over the reins three weeks ago.
Orgeron described the Southern Miss up-tempo spread attack as playing basketball on grass. Few teams do so better than the Tigers’ next opponent, Ole Miss, led by All-SEC quarterback Chad Kelly.
All of a sudden LSU has a quick strike offense of its own. Of the six touchdown drives, five took less than 92 seconds to get to the end zone. Three of them took less than a minute.
Orgeron even joked that defensive line coach Pete Jenkins chewed into offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger for scoring too fast.
“We want to take shots,” Orgeron said. “We want to be explosive on offense. We want to be able to let them put eight in the box and be able to create one-on-ones with our wide receivers … and throw shots.”
Throwing well into the fourth quarter with a sizeable lead represents quite the departure in approach for Orgeron from that of his ground-and-pound, “secure victory” preaching predecessor.
Orgeron explained he thinks it’s important to practice competing for 60 minutes because, against stiffer competition, that’ll be the requirement. Especially against spread offenses, like the Rebels they’ll host next week, that have a funny way of making the game chaotic late.