By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
NEW ORLEANS — This time it was LSU’s opponent who failed to move the ball across midfield at the Superdome.
Missing two starters and a host of key reserves, LSU started three true freshmen — it would’ve been four had the Tigers opened up in the nickel package — on defense and didn’t miss a beat, dominating BYU from start to finish en route to a 27-0 shutout in the season opener on Saturday night.
Only three players who started LSU’s Citrus Bowl decimation of Louisville were in the lineup Saturday, but the results were much the same for Dave Aranda’s crew.
“Our motto here is we replace whoever goes down,” safety John Battle said. “Next man up, he’s got to do his job.”
The Tiger defense pitched a shutout in a season-opener for the first time 2007 and notched its first shutout of any kind since 2014.
BYU finished with just 97 yards of total offense and six first downs. The Cougars actually rushed for a loss of five yards on the ground for the night.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the performance was its steadiness.
It wasn’t a roller coaster ride of brilliant and boneheaded plays, as is so often the case with rookie defenders, but a consistent and unrelenting stifling of an offense led by a strong offensive line and a veteran quarterback.
“We knew we were going to play a lot of freshmen,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “I feel like this is one of the best freshman classes I’ve been around. I thought they were going to play well. Actually I thought they were going to make more mistakes than they did. It didn’t seem like it.”
Free safety Grant Delpit, inside linebacker Tyler Taylor, nickel back Kary Vincent and ‘Buck’ linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson were credited with making the first five tackles of the game, setting the tone for what was to come.
Delpit and Vincent were named co-starters at their respective positions during camp, but the other two took on greater roles in Saturday’s opener due to the absence of more veteran players.
Chaisson started in place of All-American edge rusher Arden Key, who continues to work his way back from offseason shoulder surgery. Taylor started in place of Donnie Alexander, who was one of 13 players absent and presumably suspended.
Cornerback Kevin Toliver was the other presumed starter among the massive crew of absentees. Redshirt freshman Greedy Williams started in his place and pulled down a fabulous interception on a deep ball down the right sideline.
“They did a great job coming out the gate focused,” Battle said. “I thought they were going to be a little nervous; some little jitters there, but they did a great job. Everybody played their gap and did their assignment; had great eye discipline. That was the biggest thing.”
As for Alexander, Toliver and the host of others who didn’t make the trip, Orgeron declined to divulge any details about the reason for their absence.
All disciplinary issues would be handled in house, he repeated, though he hinted some may return for the home opener against Chattanooga.
“We’ll see,” he said, asked if they’d return for week two. “I expect our guys that were not here tonight to bounce back and have a great week next week.”
They better. Otherwise, considering the way those freshmen played, they might not have such significant roles to come back too.