BATON ROUGE – After LSU spent most of the season’s first month on the road, Tiger fans were happy to have the team, complete with the No. 1 brand, playing at Tiger Stadium. Well, most of the team, anyway.
The Tigers (5-0, 2-0 in SEC) confirmed their newly minted status as the nation’s top team by toying with Kentucky in a 35-7victory before an announced crowd of 92,660 that showed up despite an early-morning kickoff.A slow-starting Tiger offense warmed up as the weather did to put up four touchdowns, including an exciting 51-yard catch and run by freshman Odell Beckham Jr.
The LSU defense reasserted itself by scoring a touchdown itself and dominating the hapless Wildcat offense until the late stages. Last week LSU allowed 533 yards to West Virginia. On Saturday it allowed just 155 to a Kentucky team which didn’t score until 4:22 remained.
But the defense couldn’t stop fans from booing the return of quarterback Jordan Jefferson. He rejoined the team four days ago when his suspension, following an arrest for second-degree battery, was lifted by LSU Coach Les Miles after the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor Wednesday.
Moments before scoring LSU’s first touchdown from a yard out on fourth-and-goal, Jefferson received a chorus of boos. It wasn’t the whole stadium, but a significant and clearly discernable, subset of the crowd as he walked onto the field.
Miles was visibly disturbed by the act, saying “I don’t understand it; it doesn’t work for me.”
Jefferson’s teammates were more candid and supported their quarterback, who played six plays and had 29 yards rushing on four carries. He had practiced once since returning.
“I was upset with that,” guard Will Blackwell said. “It’s not the way anybody should be received, whether it’s Jordan, Jarrett, Mettenberger, I don’t care who it is. It’s not a good thing and I’d like to ask them not to do it again. That’s not classy.”
Said safety Brandon Taylor: “It’s a family thing with us and Jordan is a part of our family. We’re going to support him and I hope everybody else will.”
The fan reaction blemished what was not a perfect effort but one plenty good enough to win going away. The defense forced Kentucky’s offense to go three-and-out in its first five possessions and eight times in the game. Of the Wildcats’ 155 yards, 88 came on the final two possessions.
Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu scored his second touchdown of the season when he knocked the ball out of quarterback Maxwell Smith’s hands, picked it up and rambled 23 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-0 with 4:30 left in the third quarter. It was the eight forced fumble of his career, a school-record which he added to with another in the fourth quarter.
“Coach Brick talked about us re-establishing our selves and that’s what we came out here to do, come out and dominate,” said defensive end
Sam Montgomery, who had six tackles, including a sack. “It doesn’t matter what time of the day comes, ballers must produce, late at night or the wee hours of the morning, you come ready to play.”
Said Taylor: “It feels good to come back and be focused. We want to get our average back down and let everybody know we still have a good defense.
When they did get a first down, we were kind of mad.”
Mathieu said he felt his big play coming just as he did with his interception return last week against West Virginia when he was stopped a yard short of a touchdown.
“I saw the quarterback had his head turned the other way,” the former St. Augustine Knight said. “So it was really about me reaching over his shoulder and getting a hand on it. I was worried somebody might get to it before I did.
“We did a good job tackling and covering today. We were in their faces all day. We did a good job preparing for this game.”
LSU’s offense didn’t look as good as the Tigers’ leading rusher, Spencer Ware, carried only four times because of a hamstring injury, although Miles said could have played further.
The Wildcats brought 10 defenders into the box at times and forced three-and-outs on three of LSU’s first five possessions. LSU had 12 yards rushing on its first 12 carries.
LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee had a rough day between being off target and having some throws dropped. He finished eight of 21 for 169 yards. But he hit enough big plays to set up scores or move the chains at key times, and didn’t throw an interception for the fourth time in five games.
Rueben Randle caught a jump-ball pass for 37-yard gain to put the Tigers in position for Jefferson’s sneak with 5:37 left in the first quarter.
Four possessions later, Lee threw to Beckham near the left sideline, who evaded one defender and then cut diagonally across the field juking or breaking tackles against four others. Randle’s block got Beckham past the final defender on the 51-yard score.
LSU made it 21-0 early in the third quarter. Russell Shepard kept the drive alive with an acrobatic grab for 22 yards on third-and-5 to set up a 1-yard run by Alfred Blue, the Tigers’ leading rusher with 72 yards on 16 carries.
“There’s a couple plays I wish I had back that were there and I should have just hit them and hung in there and made the throws,” Lee said. “We came back later in the game and made some plays and it worked out for us.”
Kentucky’s only points came on a 4-yard pass from Morgan Newton to Matt Roark. It snapped a streak of 11 consecutive quarters that Kentucky (2-3, 0-2) had not scored in Tiger Stadium.
“I think our guys played their tails off today,” Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said. “We have to start making plays and playing smarter. We just played a really good football team; there is no question about it.”