Tigers hit 10th gear, race away from G-Men in confidence-building rout

TIGER TRIGGER:  Chris Hilton Jr.’s 47-yard TD reception in the first quarter Saturday night put LSU ahead to stay as the Tigers decimated Grambling’s defense. (Journal photo by PETER FOREST)

By RON HIGGINS, Journal Sports

BATON ROUGE – LSU’s 14th-ranked Tigers scored touchdowns on 10 straight possessions, resulting in the program’s second-most points for a home opener in a 72-10 evaporation of Grambling Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.

Tigers’ head coach Brian Kelly was able to play 82 players, including three quarterbacks, 18 true freshmen and 15 transfers, including first-time starters running back Logan Diggs of Notre Dame and cornerback Denver Harris.

It was the only way to exorcise the demons of being drubbed 45-24 by Florida State in last Sunday’s season opener in Orlando. And it was a needed step forward with LSU’s SEC opener on the horizon next Saturday at Mississippi State.

Yet, Kelly is a realist. He quickly put the 62-point store-bought win over a vastly overmatched opponent in proper perspective.

“We started fast, built great momentum, came out in the third quarter, asserted our will and finished off the right way,” Kelly said. “To score on 10 straight possessions when somebody doesn’t want you to score is really hard,” Kelly said. “You have to execute at a very, very high level. That doesn’t happen very often.”

But. . .

“Are there things we have to do better?” Kelly said. “Absolutely. The competition picks up. I’m not leaving here saying we’ve got this thing figured out. We’ve got to tackle better. We missed some tackles out there.”

Many of those tackles were missed when the north Louisiana visitors briefly put up a fight. Grambling answered LSU’s first two TD drives with possessions that produced a 13-yard Myles Crawley to JR Waters TD pass and 23-yard Tanner Rinker field goal to trail 14-10 at the end of the first quarter.

Grambling’s offense gained 232 yards on its first 28 plays including 188 yards on eight plays of 13 yards or more.

But when Rinker missed a 23-yard field goal that could have made it a one-possession game with 11:32 left in the second quarter, LSU decided to get its money’s worth for the $780,000 it paid the G-Men for their first-ever trip to Tiger Stadium.

There was time enough for LSU starting quarterback Jayden Daniels to guide the Tigers to 21 more points before halftime for 42-10 lead at the break.

Because LSU was comfortably on its way to gaining 622 yards total, there wasn’t a need for him to play in the second half.

Daniels completed 18 of 24 passes for 269 yards and five TDs in LSU’s 46 first-half snaps. His scoring throws were 26 and 10 yards to Brian Thomas Jr., 47 yards to Chris Hilton Jr., 7 yards to Malik Nabers and 3 yards to Kyren Lacy.

Second-team quarterback Garrett Nussmeier took over to start the second half and engineered three touchdown drives completing 4 of 6 passes and scoring on a 1-yard sneak. The third-team QB, Baton Rouge true freshman Rickie Collins, took LSU in for its final score.

Diggs was the LSU’s most welcome second-game addition. After sitting out the FSU game to make sure the hamstring injury that bothered him all summer had finally healed, the former Archbishop Rummel star ran for 115 yards and one TD in his LSU debut.

“It’s been a really long journey battling injuries,” said Diggs, who rushed more than 1,000 yards with 7 TDs (4 rushing, 3 receiving) in the last two years at Notre Dame. “It really felt good, especially to come back home and play in front of the home crowd. I’m glad to wear those colors. When I was a kid, I dreamed about playing at Louisiana State University.”

Diggs’ 12-yard run through a tangle of traffic on LSU’s first offensive play of the game set the tone for a rushing attack that was anemic in the FSU loss. Kelly, who signed and coached Diggs two seasons ago at Notre Dame, wasn’t surprised about Diggs’ immediate impact.

“We knew what we were getting with Logan,” Kelly said. “We weren’t going to play him unless he really felt good. He had a good week of practice, and he prepared the right way. We saw the kind of back that is going to help us.”

Besides Diggs, true freshman Kaleb Jackson came off the bench in the second half and ran for 62 yards and two TDs on 11 carries. LSU finished with 302 yards rushing on 38 carries.

LSU scored 58 unanswered points, much to the chagrin of Grambling coach Hue Jackson as his team fell to 0-2 on the season.

“I don’t know if I can take a positive away other than our guys’ energy is still good,” said Jackson, whose squad finished with 320 mostly empty offensive yards. “This is my football team. We didn’t play well enough. We weren’t prepared enough. It’s my responsibility.”

That’s exactly what Kelly said after FSU outscored LSU 31-7 in the second half last Sunday.

“We could have felt sorry for ourselves, worry about it all season and then go 5-7,” Nussmeier said, “or learn how to get better from it. We had to learn how to fix things and learn how to play better.

“We did that tonight and it helped us pick up momentum going into SEC play.”

Contact Ron at ronhigginsmedia@gmail.com