Owners of the most impressive wins during Week 1 of the college football season: Auburn, Notre Dame and LSU.
That is not to say that those are the three best teams, but they secured the most impressive results. Of the three, the most surprising had to have been LSU’s 33-17 dismantling of No. 8 Miami in Arlington Sunday night.
It was an announcement to members of the college football world who had questioned this team — myself included — that these Tigers are not to be taken lightly.
Please spare me the rhetoric about how Miami outgained LSU and made things interesting late. The Tigers led by 30 at the end of three quarters when Miami added two scores and a bunch of garbage yardage in the fourth quarter while LSU was loading the equipment truck.
Offensively, nobody will mistake LSU for Ohio State, but Buckeyes graduate-transfer quarterback Joe Burrow looked every bit the part of a leader who can maximize whatever potential this offense has. Hit stat line (11-for-24, 140 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions) won’t pop, but he was efficient and protected the football.
Even though Burrow has been on campus for only two months, his acumen showed, too. On Nick Brossette’s 50-yard touchdown run, it was Burrow who checked out of a pass play to the run. Burrow also audibled at the line on the fourth-and-1 call in the second quarter with the Tigers leading only 10-3. They would convert and eventually score to push the lead to 17-3.
For all the talk about Miami’s aggressive defense and the Turnover Chain, it was the Tigers defense that wore the crown.
LSU sacked Malik Rosier four times, hurried him five other times and forced two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Jacob Phillips.
The LSU defensive front overwhelmed Miami’s offensive line, holding the Hurricanes to just 83 yards rushing on 2.4 yards per attempt. The Canes did not convert a third down until the 6:34 mark of the third quarter and finished the game 6 for 16.
Perhaps the most notable difference for LSU from a season ago was its special teams. To put it bluntly, LSU was bad in every phase of special teams last year. After spending 2017 without a designated special teams coordinator, Ed Orgeron hired longtime NFL coordinator Greg McMahon to oversee these units. The improvement was immediate.
Transfer kicker Cole Tracy was 4 for 4 on field goals, including a program record-tying 54 yarder. Punters Zach Von Rosenberg and Josh Growden did not allow Miami a single return all night. Freshman kickoff specialist Avery Atkins boomed six touchbacks on eight chances. On Miami’s first punt of the night, reserve defensive back Ed Paris deflected the ball, netting a 20-yard punt and giving LSU the short field.
For the game, Miami’s starting field position was its own 24-yard line. LSU started at its own 38.
It wasn’t all Bloody Marys and gumbo for the Tigers, however. By any measure, wasting all three timeouts with three minutes remaining in the first quarter is a negative. There were bad drops by receivers, and the offensive line struggled at times. The reshaped unit allowed too much pressure on Burrow for comfort (two sacks, five hurries) and struggled to create space for running backs consistently.
Outside of Brossette’s 50-yard burst, LSU ran for only 2.6 yards per carry. Rosier picked on cornerbacks Kristian Fulton and Kelvin Joseph, who played opposite All-American Greedy Williams, something the duo will have to get used to all season.
Perhaps the biggest loss for the Tigers was when star edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson went down clutching his knee late in the second half. There was no immediate word on his condition, but he was reportedly seen leaving the locker room wearing a leg brace. An LSU defense without Chaisson is a unit without an elite pass rusher.
Still, the hiccups were minor and correctable on a day when the Tigers roared.
A win over Miami doesn’t change the fact that LSU still faces arguably the most difficult schedule in America. But the conversation around this team will absolutely be different for the next two weeks before the Tigers head to the Plains to take on Auburn in a matchup of teams that own college football’s most impressive wins in Week 1.