LSU successfully road-tested its passing offense Saturday night, with senior quarterback Danny Etling throwing for 227 yards, including four completions of at least 36 yards. And the Tigers' defense became typically dominant after a sluggish start to power No. 12 LSU to a 45-10 rout of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga at Tiger Stadium.
In moving to 2-0 on the season -- and with the SEC opener coming up on the road Saturday against 2-0 Mississippi State -- LSU head coach Ed Orgeron was thrilled with the way Etling sprinkled in big plays to complement the power and slashing ability of tailback Derrius Guice, who gained 102 yards on 15 carries and scored twice in the first half as LSU pulled away to 28-3 lead.
But he knows next week in Starkville will be a different atmosphere.
"There will be no joking around on the sidelines," he said. "It's going to be a 60-minute game. Every play, attention to detail is going to be important."
Etling threw only 14 times, completing eight, but four of his throws went for 48 and 46 yards to D.J. Chark (three catches for 103 yards), 46 yards to Stephen Sullivan and 36 yards to Drake Davis. Etling also hit freshman receiver JaCoby Stevens, a converted safety, for a 27-yard sideline completion.
"Danny was very accurate, and he did a tremendous job," Orgeron said. "We like a balanced look, but we'll take what they give us. Tonight was a great indication of us being 50-50. We have to run the football (253 rushing yards on 46 carries), but Danny was tremendous on the shots tonight."
Etling's 36-yard touchdown pass to Davis erased Chattanooga's early 3-0 lead. On the play, Etling faked a jet sweep handoff and faked again to Guice off tackle before finding Davis alone in the end zone behind cornerback C.J. Fritz.
Orgeron said LSU's improvement in the passing game has been measurable over the last six weeks of practice and games.
"No. 1, the offensive line is doing a great job of making it look like a run," Orgeron said. "Danny's hiding the ball well, and the receivers are running a lot better routes this year. They've worked on their feet all summer with (receivers coach) Mickey Joseph. Our receivers are the most improved unit on the football team right now."
"I've been watching LSU since ninth grade, and I've never seen them take this many shots," Sullivan said about Etling's gunslinging.
Chark, LSU's fastest wide receiver, added a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown that broke open the game, 28-3, in the first half. Chark also had a 79-yard punt return for a TD called back by penalty.
"Give credit to our coaching staff for drawing up those returns," Orgeron said. "There were some big holes there, but (Chark) has great vision."
Guice had his second consecutive 100-yard game, and he scored from 1 and 6 yards in the first half before giving way to Darrel Williams, who scored on runs of 4 and 3 yards in the second half as LSU blew open the game.
The LSU defense recovered from a sluggish start. After Chattanooga accounted for 98 yards in total offense in the first quarter, the Tigers defense allowed just 22 yards on 22 offensive plays in the next nine possessions, turning a 3-0 deficit into a 42-3 lead.
"I was very disappointed in the pass rush at the start, but after that, we heated it up (sacking Chattanooga quarterback Nick Tiano five times)," Orgeron said.
The downside for LSU continued to be its penchant for committing penalties (11 for 74 yards), and field goal misses of 40 yards by Jack Gonsoulin and Connor Culp.
"We need to still find a field goal kicker," Orgeron said. "We don't have one yet. We're going to open it up."
Orgeron said he was disappointed in the number of penalties, especially after committing 10 for 86 against BYU last week.
"I do believe it's a mindset, and it's got to come from me," Orgeron said. "I'm not putting up with it any more."
Chattanooga coach Tom Arth said he liked what the Mocs did on their first two drives to take the early lead, but not their inability to play with consistency.
"We've got to put our players in those game-like situations and challenge them to do their best, every single day," Arth said. "I've got to do a better job creating a stressful environment so we can execute consistently."