William Weathers: LSU’s 2020 death spiral carries over to the 2021 season opener

LSU defensive end B.J. Ojulari (7) was named the SEC's Defensive Lineman of the Week for his efforts in last Saturday's home win over Central Michigan. Photo courtesy: LSU athletics.

Saturday’s postgame in the Rose Bowl for UCLA’s victorious football team, a decided 38-27 winner over No. 13 LSU, had more of a feel of a postseason celebration than some mundane Week 2 triumph.

The Bruins were treated to a blue-and-gold confetti shower where some team members felt giddy enough to fall to the stadium’s turf and create confetti angels.

There wasn’t such a scene the week before in UCLA’s 44-10 pasting of Hawaii, but it was clear the Bruins wanted to soak in every moment of their dispatching of LSU and deservedly so.

One thing was clear: UCLA rose to the occasion, a ramp up through the summer with a clear objective and a big red check next to LSU’s name on its 2021 schedule.

LSU, trying to make amends for a 5-5 season devoid of postseason play, showed it’s a program still in a steady decline since its magical run to an undefeated 15-0 national championship just two short years ago.

UCLA didn’t care LSU’s a shell of its championship-level self. The Bruins put together a masterful game plan on both sides of the football.

After trailing for a grand total of 14 seconds, the home team took the lead for good on Zach Charbonnet’s 12-yard TD run with less than 10 minutes left in the second quarter, fended off one serious LSU charge in the middle of the third quarter to pull away for the victory.

“I felt good about this football team going in,” LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron said afterward. “I feel bad for the guys. They had a new coaching staff, they wanted to do very good. They’ve been working very hard. We had 50-something (48) yards rushing, they had 200-something (209) yards rushing. They’re all over the quarterback and they made some big plays, and we gave up big plays on defense again. Those are the things that are reoccurring, and we’ve got to get them fixed.”

It may be a matter of semantics that UCLA upset LSU which was ranked 13th and 16th, respectively coming into the season.

But make no mistake about it this wasn’t an upset. The Bruins, who have an experienced team with all players on defense being seniors, took the opportunity at the Tigers’ expense to show what a ranked team looks like, one that deserves to the in the Top 25 and one, barring injury, should be in the thick of the race to claim the Pac 12 championship.

While there was a litany of reasons to divert from the real reason LSU lost its season opener for the second straight season, sophomore wide receiver Kayshon Boutte was straight and to the point.

“I’m going to be real,” he said. “We got beat tonight, got beat up front. We got beat all around. They just outplayed us for 60 minutes.”

You’ll get no argument in this space.

With two first-year coordinators, each of whom were making their Power 5 Conference debuts, LSU was believed to be in better places with Jake Peetz calling the offense and Daronte Jones pulling the strings on defense.

Orgeron wanted a semblance of LSU’s record-setting offense under Peetz and an improved, simplistic defensive scheme with better communication under Jones after the Tigers tradition for producing elite defenses took a serious hit with the school’s worst statistical unit in 2020.

LSU’s subpar play on the offensive line was the overriding theme for an offense that finished with 378 total yards, 330 of which came on the left arm of sophomore quarterback Max Johnson. The Tigers were limited to 1.9 yards per rush, winding up with 48 yards on 25 attempts and fell to 1-9 in games in which they’ve rushed for less than 100 yards under Orgeron.

Johnson wasn’t able to flourish against UCLA’s blitz-happy defensive approach, completing 26 of 46 passes for 330 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The additional pressure brought by the Bruins disrupted Johnson’s timing and other than a stretch early in the third quarter when the Tigers scored 10 points on back-to-back drives, they weren’t able to truly get into a rhythm.

To compound matters, though, was LSU’s defense that looked eerily a lot like its predecessor from last season.

The Tigers were gashed at the line of scrimmage for 209 yards on 42 carries, led by a pair of 200-pound-plus sledgehammers in Charbonnet and Brittain Brown for an offensive attack that had 10 rushing plays generate at least 10-plus yards.

The Bruins’ QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed only nine passes but 233 of his 260 yards were derived from big pass plays – six of which that gained 15 yards or more. Tight end Greg Dulcich was the beneficiary of such coverage busts, averaging 39 yards per reception, including a 75-yard score on the first play after LSU had grabbed the early momentum with a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.

It was the last time LSU would lead again.

“I thought there was a point in the game where we settled down, but we just couldn’t stop them,” Orgeron said. “Big plays. We couldn’t stop making mistakes.”

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William Weathers

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