ARLINGTON, Texas — Between the unknowns on offense — the new coordinator and quarterback, the unproven backs and receivers — and an August of off-the-field noise — the suspensions, the transfers, the bleak projections — it felt as difficult as ever to get a feel for what LSU would look like once the season opener finally arrived.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron said only that his team would be better than people on the outside though, and even that was met with skeptical snickering from most who heard the coach’s matter-of-fact response leading into opening night.
That was before Orgeron and his Tigers went out and put together the kind of statement performance in front of a national audience that’ll be impossible to ignore.
Senior running back Nick Brossette exploded for a career-high 125 yards with two scores on 22 carries as No. 25 LSU thoroughly outplayed No. 8 Miami in all three phases of the game en route to a 33-17 shellacking at AT&T Stadium on Sunday night.
“We could see it in camp that our team came together when those things happened to us,” Orgeron said. “As you’ve heard me say a lot of times, we block out the noise. I want to credit the leadership on this football team, I think they came together. All those things made us closer. We had a choice, and we chose to have those things make us closer.”
It’s the second win against a top-10 opponent since Orgeron took over the program midway through the 2016 season and the highest-ranked opponent that LSU had beaten since the 2015 Tigers took down No. 8 Florida.
The coach sprinted down a hallway inside AT&T Stadium screaming, “1-0 baby, how bout them Tigers!” as the players made their way back to the locker room, a moment of pure elation for a coach who has had his job status questioned since the interim tag was removed in the first place.
Orgeron had resumed his normal public persona of stoically blocking out the noise by the time he was asked about the personal significance of such a win at the post-game press conference.
“It’s never about me; it’s about the Tigers,” Orgeron said. “We just viewed it as we’re playing Miami. And it’s our opening game and we wanted to be 1-0. That’s all it was about.”
New quarterback Joe Burrow was perfectly solid in his first career start, completing 11-of-22 passes for 140 yards. His numbers would have been better were it not for a handful of on-target drops, but he made smart decisions with the football and kept the offense moving all night.
The revamped defense that LSU paid Dave Aranda $2.5 million to continue coordinating stoned Miami on its first seven third-down attempts and forced two turnovers. The front seven dominated the point of attack and coverage on the back end was largely solid before some busts in the fourth quarter.
New kicker Cole Tracy went 4-for-4 on field goal tries, including a 54-yard boot that tied the all-time school record. Meanwhile Miami kicker Bubba Baxa missed one of his two tries and punter Zach Feagles shanked his first three kicks of the night to give away the field position battle.
It might not have been the perfect performance — a sloppy fourth quarter almost put the result in jeopardy — but it’s hard to imagine how this pivotal season opener could have gone better.
“We proved a point tonight,” Brossette said. “We don’t like people talking down about this program. LSU is a top-notch program and we just want to put it back where it needs to be.”
The tone appeared to be set for a physical, back-and-forth fist fight of a defensive struggle when the teams had to be separated near midfield during pregame warm-ups. Instead it turned into a good ole fashion whooping.
Both sides appeared a bit out of sorts in the early going between penalty flags, dropped passes and LSU burning all three of its allotted timeouts in the first quarter.
“We made some mistakes tonight,” Burrow said. “We’ve got a lot to correct, but it was a good start.”
Brossette broke a 3-3 tie when he burst through a massive hole opened by the left side of the offensive line — Saahdiq Charles and Garrett Brumfield — for a 50-yard touchdown late in the first half. Orgeron credited Burrow for calling an audible at the line of scrimmage that sprung the game-changing gallop.
“That’s what we have seen from Joe the whole time,” Orgeron said. “That’s what we saw when we recruited him. He’s very smart. He’s cool under pressure, can make adjustments. He was ready to go. He was fired up today. That was a big audible on his part.”
From that point on, LSU was rolling downhill.
LSU ceased control in the second quarter with an 11-play, 58-yard scoring march during which Orgeron successfully rolled the dice on a pair of fourth downs. A circus catch from freshman receiver Ja’Marr Chase set up first-and-goal and Brossette plunged into the end zone from two yards out.
Miami’s implosion hit another level when nose tackle Ed Alexander got a hand on a Malik Rosier pass, deflecting it right into the stomach of linebacker Jacob Phillips.
The sophomore led a convoy of defends into the end zone for the pick six and trolled his opponents by flashing an upside-down “U” in celebration.” Strength and condition coach Tommy Moffitt rewarded him with a “Turnover Towel” once he got back to the sideline, and Phillips showed up to the postgame press conference with giant Mardi Gras beads.
“It’s the Turnover Chain, Louisiana style,” he smiled.
Miami didn’t score again until the fourth quarter, at which point LSU had amassed a 30-point lead. Another touchdown trimmed the deficit to 16, and Miami got the ball back with a chance to make it a one-score game, but a fourth-down Breiden Fehoko sack put the game back on ice.
LSU will return home to host Southeastern at Tiger Stadium next Saturday night.