BATON ROUGE – It was the perfect situation for a coach. Win convincingly, but make enough mistakes to be able to correct.
LSU coach Les Miles can take satisfaction in his Tigers' 41-14 victory over North Texas Saturday night in Tiger Stadium, but he can still do plenty of "coaching up" leading into next Saturday's toughest non-conference test when Washington comes calling.
"Imperfect, with reason to smile," Miles said. "Offense, defense and special teams had a chance to play dominant at times, but we were sloppy at times."
It would be easy to blame some of that sloppiness on a missed day of practice on Wednesday because of Hurricane Isaac, but Miles wouldn't do that.
Instead, he got some questions answered, or at least start to get answered, on Saturday.
First, how would Zach Mettenberger respond in his first major-college start? Despite the lopsided score, the junior threw the ball 26 times, completing 19. Last year, the Tigers did not pass the ball more than 29 times in any game.
Mettenberger had his bright spots, especially when he connected eight times with Lutcher's Jarvis Landry. But he forced a ball in the red zone late in the first half that led to his only interception, and LSU's lone turnover, of the night.
He took a couple of sacks and another hit that knocked him out of the game briefly in the first half.
"He'll learn to take what the defense is giving him more," Miles said, "and do more what we ask him to do."
The August loss of Tyrann Mathieu essentially took two players off the field – a cornerback and a return specialist. Who would step in?
New Orleanian Odell Beckham Jr. made sure to take care of one of those spots against the Mean Green.
Beckham returned a first-quarter punt 70 yards for a touchdown. That came moments after he had another TD return nullified by a block in the back. That was one of 10 penalties by the Tigers, two of which wiped out touchdowns.
True freshman Jalen Mills started at cornerback in the spot once held by Mathieu and made four tackles. Despite only two experienced players in the secondary – Eric Reid and Tharold Simon – the Tigers held up well against the pass, with the exception of one 80-yard TD pass by the Mean Green just before halftime.
Of course, a dominant defensive line, led by ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, make life a little bit easier on the back end.
LSU outgained North Texas 508-219 – the Tigers' first 500-yard game in five years. The Tigers were outstanding in the running game last year, and picked up where they left off in the opener – just with some different players.
While Spencer Ware watched from the sideline and Michael Ford played sparingly, having just regained his eligibility prior to the game, the Tigers unveiled a new 1-2 punch in sophomore Kenny Hilliard and junior Alfred Blue on their way to 315 total yards.
Hilliard rushed for 141 yards and Blue 123, the first time a pair of LSU backs have rushed for 100-plus yards in a season opener in 30 years, when another Hilliard – Dalton – teamed with Garry James against Oregon State. (For the record, Kenny Hilliard outrushed his famous uncle. Dalton had 133 against Oregon State, but scored three touchdowns.)
"We're going to have very good tailback play," Miles understated.
Even fullback J.C. Copeland, who came into the season with all of two carries, touched the football four times Saturday night and scored his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Like any coach, though, Miles put this one was put on the back burner very quickly.
"Now, we have to improve," said Miles. We have a very quality Washington team coming in."
LSU FOOTBALL POSTGAME NOTES
#1 LSU vs. North Texas
Sept. 1, 2012 - Tiger Stadium (Baton Rouge, La.)
1. LSU's game captains were 1 Eric Reid, 18 Bennie Logan, 30 Drew Alleman, 8 Zach Mettenberger.
2. LSU won the toss and deferred to the second half. North Texas received the opening kickoff.
3. The attendance of tonight's game is 92,059.
4. First-time starters for LSU (4): LG La'el Collins, QB Zach Mettenberger, LB Luke Muncie, CB Jalen Mills.
5. LSU true freshmen who saw their first career actions (12): LB Kwon Alexander, OT Vadal Alexander, CB Jalen Mills, P Jamie Keehn, S Jerqwinick Sandolph, LB Deion Jones, SNP Reid Ferguson, DL Danielle Hunter, LB Ronnie Feist, LB Lorenzo Phillips, S Corey Thompson, TE Dillon Gordon.
6. Along with the true freshmen, the following players also made their first career appearance: QB Stephen Rivers, WR Paul Turner, CB Jalen Collins, S Micah Eugene, C Elliott Porter, OG Trai Turner, OL Evan Washington, DL Jeremy Peeples.
7. LSU is now 24-4 in games played as the No. 1-ranked team and the Tigers have now played 12 consecutive games as the nation's No. 1 ranked team.
8. Streaks extended by LSU tonight: nation-leading 18-game home winning streak (last loss: Florida, 2009); nation-leading 38-game non-conference regular-season winning streak (last loss: Virginia Tech, 2002); nation-leading 14 consecutive regular season wins (last loss: Arkansas, 2010); 22 consecutive wins in month of September (last loss: Auburn, 2006).
9. LSU has won 21-straight games when winning the turnover battle and is 38-4 under Les Miles after winning the TO battle.
10. LSU is now 27-2 when having a running back go over 100 yards rushing. (only losses: Georgia, 2008; Arkansas, 2007).
11. LSU has returned punts for touchdowns in three out of its last four games, including back-to-back home games: Odell Beckham, Jr. 70 yards tonight, Tyrann Mathieu vs. Georgia 62 yards in SEC Championship, Mathieu 92 yards vs. Arkansas.
a. Under Les Miles, LSU now owns 18 special teams touchdowns (since 2005).
b. Beckham's punt return for a touchdown marked the first time that an LSU player has returned a punt for a touchdown in a season opener since Patrick Peterson returned a punt 87 yards for a score in the second quarter in a 30-24 victory over No. 18 North Carolina on Sept. 4, 2010. LSU has scored a TD on a punt return in five straight seasons.
12. North Texas' first first down came with 14:06 in the second quarter. The Tigers held them to no first downs in the first quarter.
13. LSU improved to 86-28-5 overall in season openers and is now 8-0 in season openers under Les Miles. The Tigers have won 10 consecutive season openers and 16 of the last 17 (loss was against Virginia Tech, 2002).
14. LSU produced two running backs over 100 yards in the same game for the first time since the 2011 Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M when Stevan Ridley (105) and Spencer Ware (102) did it.
a. It's also the first time two Tiger running backs have gone over 100 yards in a season-opener since LSU beat Oregon State, 45-7, on Sept. 18, 1982. Dalton Hilliard (133) and Garry James (128) did it.
15. LSU finished the game with 508 yards of total offense, marking the first time the Tigers have surpassed 500 yards of total offense in a game since gaining 595 yards in a 58-10 victory over Louisiana Tech on Nov. 10, 2007.
a. The Tigers rushed for 316 yards in Saturday's season-opening win, marking the first time they have eclipsed 300 yards on the ground since a 353-yard effort in a 52-3 win over Ole Miss on Nov. 19, 2011.
16. RB Kenny Hilliard tallied the fourth multi-touchdown game of his career, scampering 38 yards with 12:30 to go in the first quarter and adding another score on a 5-yard run with 14:56 left in the second quarter.
a. Hilliard has racked up eight touchdowns in his last six games dating back to the Western Kentucky contest last season.
b. Hilliard now has 10 rushing touchdowns for his career (14 games).
c. Hilliard finished with a career-best 141 yards rushing on 13 carries, besting the 102 yards he had against Arkansas last year. The 141 yards are the most by a Tiger in a game since Stevan Ridley had 159 versus Vanderbilt on Sept. 11, 2010.
d. Hilliard is the first Tiger to go over 100 yards in a season-opener since Charles Scott had 160 vs. Appalachian State in 2008.
17. SS Craig Loston made his first start since the 2011 Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M. Loston has taken over the strong safety spot held by Brandon Taylor last year.
18. QB Stephen Rivers made his first career appearance with 1:43 to go in the first quarter, replacing Zach Mettenberger who was injured on the previous series.
19. Early in the second quarter, OG Josh Dworaczyk made his first appearance on the line since the 2011 Cotton Bowl vs. Texas A&M.
20. PK Drew Alleman connected on 2-of-3 field goals tonight: (44-yarder with 6:26 in second quarter and a 30-yarder with 2:10 to go in the third quarter).
a. The 44-yarder tied the longest of Alleman's career, matching the 44-yarder he made against Oregon in last year's season-opener.
b. Alleman missed a 34-yarder with 2:20 left in the second quarter. It snapped a streak of 11 consecutive successfully made field goal attempts. It was his first miss since the West Virginia game last year.
c. Alleman remains the LSU all-time leader in field goal percentage: 18-of-21, .857.
21. WR/RS Odell Beckham, Jr. recorded his first career punt return touchdown when he went 70 yards to the endzone with 6:26 left in the first quarter.
22. WR Kadron Boone caught his third career TD pass on a 34-yard strike from Zach Mettenberger with 14:51 left in the fourth quarter.
23. FB J.C. Copeland scored his first career touchdown on a 5-yard run with 2:20 left in the fourth quarter. Copeland finished the game with career highs with four carries and 33 yards rushing.
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