By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Ed Orgeron first came to Tiger Stadium on a recruiting visit. He remembers being on the sidelines as the Tigers administered a 77-0 thrashing of Rice on Sept. 24, 1977.
His first game inside Death Valley as LSU’s full-fledged head coach would be equally devoid of drama.
Big plays were the order of the day in all three facets of the game as LSU dispatched FCS foe UT-Chattanooga, 45-10, quickly dispersing any notions of a trap game in the home opener at Tiger Stadium on Saturday night.
LSU (2-0) still has some issues to clean up before it heads to Starkville next week for its Southeastern Conference opener against Mississippi State, but the Tigers outscored its opponents by a combined score of 72-10 in two ostensibly dominant showings.
However, it was an unfocused start defensively, 11 more penalties and a calamitous night in the kicking game that was more on the forefront of Orgeron’s mind after the game.
“Tonight I thought we were spotty and inconsistent,” the coach said. “But I’m glad it happened this week and not next week. It’s always better when you don’t play well and you win. They’re going to listen to you and make some improvement. Next week is going to be a tough week.”
LSU outgained Chattanooga (0-2) 454-242, forced three turnovers — one via downs — without committing one, recorded five sacks and scored on special teams in an all-around overwhelming effort that produced 42 unanswered points.
Quarterback Danny Etling played more like a confident gunslinger than a game manager in leading a noticeably more explosive aerial attack. He completed 8-of-14 passes for 227 yards with one touchdown and zero turnovers.
Derrius Guice churned out 102 yards and two touchdowns on the ground to complement the downfield shots. Wideout DJ Chark recorded his first career 100-yard receiving game on just three receptions and returned a punt for a touchdown.
Chattanooga took the opening kickoff and drove deep into LSU territory — a feat BYU didn’t accomplish once in the season opener — before LSU forced the Mocs to settle for a 22-yard field goal from Victor Ulmo.
Orgeron then challenged his team to step up its intensity and physicality, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The unit responded by pitching a shutout from that point until the fourth quarter.
“It was about intensity and I feel like there was a lot of jitters,” said inside linebacker Devin White, who led the Tigers with nine tackles. “We just had to settle down and play LSU defense, because at the end of the day, I feel like the offense did what they had to do.”
“Coach O gave us some very encouraging words at halftime, if you know what I mean,” safety John Battle added. “We got it in gear after that.”
Trailing for the first time this season, Etling led LSU right back down the field with a response. The senior scrambled to convert on third-and-long and then found a wide-open Drake Davis in the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown strike off two play action fakes.
LSU tacked on to that early lead after a fourth-down stand by the defense. Etling went deep off play action again and big-bodied receiver Stephen Sullivan — listed at 6 foot 6 — outleaped two defenders to come down with a 46-yard jump ball.
Three carries later Guice plunged into the end zone from one yard out to put the Tigers ahead 14-3 after the first quarter. Etling’s first four completions went for 155 yards as LSU raced into the lead.
“We always want to take shots,” Orgeron said. “But they gave it to us tonight and we did it.”
Chattanooga hung around, aided by a missed field goal and a host of penalties, including one that whipped out a punt return touchdown, right up until LSU cornerback Greedy Williams jumped a curl route and picked Mocs quarterback Nick Tiano — his second in as many career games.
Set up in plus territory, Guice immediately ripped off a 25-yard gain up the middle and three plays later he battled into the end zone from six yards out for his second score of the first half.
Stingy since the opening drive, LSU forced another punt and DJ Chark took it 65 yards for a touchdown — no flags, this time. An acrobatic, one-handed interception by Kary Vincent off a tipped pass on the next drive, but it only led to another missed field goal.
LSU kept the pedal down after halftime. Darrel Williams capped off a methodical 13-play drive out of the break with a short scoring plunge. One possession later, a 48-yard circus catch by Chark set up another Williams touchdown to put LSU ahead 42-3.
Chattanooga finally broke a string of 42 unanswered points with an 86-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. The score broke a string 11 consecutive quarters in which Dave Aranda’s unit hadn’t allowed an opponent into the end zone.
“Just a lack of mental focus there,” Orgeron said. “They’ll get it fixed.”