All the talk about Oregon being “Tiger Bait” wasn’t that far off.
LSU chewed up the Ducks on Saturday night, controlling the line of scrimmage and feasting off Oregon’s turnovers, penalties and other miscues to saunter out of Arlington, Texas, with a 40-27 win in the season opener for both.
The game was billed as one with national title implications, but only No. 4 LSU left with those aspirations still in place. Oregon, which was ranked No. 3, is likely to tumble out of the Top 10 in the Associated Press and USA Today polls with the loss.
Harassed all game by an aggressive Tiger defense, the Ducks and quarterback Darron Thomas could generate only 335 yards of total offense and just 95 yards on the ground. Heisman Trophy candidate LaMichael James was held to 54 yards on 18 carries.
Oregon sorely missed suspended cornerback and return man Cliff Harris. Two of the Duck turnovers came on a punt return and a kick return. LSU also passed for a touchdown against Harris’ replacement, redshirt freshman Terrance Mitchell.
The defeat — coach Chip Kelly’s fourth to a nonconference powerhouse — again generated questions about the effectiveness of Oregon’s spread offense in big showdowns. All four losses have come against teams featuring big and fast defensive lines — including Auburn in last season’s BCS National Championship Game — that had weeks or months to prepare for the Ducks.
Oregon turned the ball over four times to just once for LSU. Afterwards, Kelly described the miscues as “self-inflicted wounds.”
“The drops, the turnovers and the penalties are the things that really killed us,” he said. “Against a team like that, you’re not going to win the game.”
He also made reference to the Tigers’ size, saying LSU has “a little bit different athlete running around out there right now,” compared to his own team.
James, who again was held under 100 yards rushing by a SEC team, said he didn’t believe Oregon was ready mentally.
“We have a lot of underclassmen and people who’ve never played in a college football game,” James said. “It was difficult.”
LSU coach Les Miles had the opposite take about his own squad.
“The reality is we were ready,” Miles said.
How the game was won: LSU scored 24 unanswered points after Oregon took a 13-9 lead in the second quarter. By the time the Ducks scored again, there was only 9:14 left in the fourth.
Turning point: Heralded freshman tailback De’Anthony Thomas’ two fumbles in the third quarter led to two quick touchdowns for LSU and too big of a gap for the Ducks to overcome. With the Tigers up 16-13 — and LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner nursing injuries — Thomas took a handoff and had an apparent first down before coughing up the ball deep in his own territory. After LSU’s Michael Ford scored at the 6:23 mark, Thomas took the ensuing kickoff and had a nice return before again fumbling. The Tigers quickly scored to go up 30-13 with 3:03 remaining in the third.
Stat of the game: Stuck with bad field position, the Ducks had only nine total yards in the third quarter and no first downs.
Player of the game: LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee receives a half-nod here for managing the game well after a shaky start and for not throwing any interceptions. But Tiger running back Michael Ford was a beast when it mattered most — rumbling for chunks of yardage and putting points on the board in the second half. He finished with two touchdowns and 96 yards rushing on only 14 carries.
Second guessing: Chip Kelly will say otherwise, but was scheduling a talented SEC power that had ninth months to prepare for the Ducks’ spread offense the right move for the program?
What it means: Oregon’s chance for a return trip to the BCS National Championship Game is shot. The Ducks will now aim for a Pac-12 championship.
What’s next: Nevada, next Saturday, at Autzen Stadium
Last time they played: The Ducks won 31-23 on Sept. 6, 2003, at Eugene. Oregon leads the overall series with Nevada 6-1, the only loss coming in 1947.