Scooter Hobbs column: Tigers look like a different team

Published 10:00 am Monday, September 20, 2021

BATON ROUGE — To be honest, I wasn’t aware that LSU and Central Michigan had such a heated rivalry.

In fact, I don’t think they’d ever played before Saturday night.

But the Tigers sure did seem pleased with themselves after the good thrashing.

Maybe.

But I can only imagine the reaction LSU got showing up at the SEC Lodge on Sunday with its chest all pumped out.

Yeah, whipped up on ‘em 42-21 … and it was really worse than that. Easier than the score looked anyway.

You beat who?

Central Michigan.

Central What?

The Chippewas

The Chip’n’ Whos?

Chippen-DALES … uh, I mean Chippewas. Ask Missouri. Gave it a pretty good scare a couple of weeks ago.

Whatever. You do know UCLA lost to Fresno State Saturday, huh?

OK, there was nothing LSU could really do over the last two weeks to make amends for the season opener.

Beating the Chippewas by 28 or 48 or 108 wasn’t going to pronounce the Tigers ready for SEC play.

But they had to start somewhere.

And Saturday night at least gave LSU some hope that things can get better.

Forget the opponent.

As head coach Ed Orgeron said afterwards, “This wasn’t about Central Michigan. This was about us. Our identity. Who we’re going to be and what are the things that we are going to do well. I think you saw some of them tonight.”

Yes, it was Central Michigan, but it sure beat the alternative.

LSU looked like a different team than the first two weeks — different mind set, different confidence, mostly a different, more aggressive approach.

Orgeron even thought he saw subtle hints of some reminders of the 2019 magic.

Probably a futile search there, if not outright wishful thinking, although that was a teasing touch at the end when freshman Corey Kiner did a passable imitation of the Clyde Edwards-Helaire spin move for the Tigers’ final touchdown.

But Joe Burrow isn’t walking through that door. Nor is the director, former passing game coordinator Joe Brady.

Maybe the next shipment of those former frisbee catching triplets — Terrance Marshall, Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase — has arrived, maybe not.

But Saturday was a formal introduction to Deion Smith, Jack Bech, Brian Thomas, etc., not to mention Kiner at running back.

Only Bech had really done anything in the first two games.

For all the talent and experience LSU has, this team is going to go as far as a bunch of freshmen and sophomore play-makers can take them.

That figures to be bumpy at times, but Saturday at least showed what they’re capable of.

Sophomore quarterback Max Johnson and last year’s freshman breakout receiver, Kayshon Boutte, were in place. They obviously needed help. Somebody else had to step up, pronto, and there was Smith (one reception in the first two games) with six catches for 135 yards and two circus touchdown catches, Bech with five for 81 and a one-handed grab in the end zone, Thomas with two for 50 yards.

All told, five Tigers scored their first college touchdowns.

“They finally got their chance,” Orgeron said, noting that there’s more untapped and as yet unseen youth among the receivers.

Of course, LSU better be able throw.

Of all the things on the pre-SEC checklist, the running game had to be near the top.

And yet the Tigers didn’t seem to worry about it, rarely messing with it until late in the game — 61 of their 84 yards rushing came in the fourth quarter while trying to get the game over with.

It’s hard to say they couldn’t run — they didn’t seem much interested in trying while flinging it around the lot to all of Johnson’s new toys.

It’s a little misleading as they did use the short pass like a de facto running game.

But you wonder how that will fly — or run, actually — in the SEC.

After all, it was just Central Michigan.

But, Chippewas or Chippendales, the Tigers did seem to come out of their final tune-up with a whole new attitude.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com