In its season opener LSU got lax with a 20-point lead and let North Carolina rally in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers made no such mistakes Saturday against Vanderbilt. Stevan Ridley busted out 65 of his 159 rushing yards on a touchdown run with 4:34 left, the third score allowed in the final period by the Commodores, who ultimately fell 27-3.
Ridley ran through a huge hole on the ride side of LSU’s offensive line whereas Vanderbilt’s offensive line struggled all night against the 16th-ranked ranked Tigers. The Commodores rushed for a total of 65 yards compared to LSU’s 280, and quarterback Larry Smith was sacked six times for a total of 47 yards in losses.
“We’ve got to do different schemes,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we get double -eams, we’ve got to slide protect, we can’t man protect. We went in the game thinking maybe we could do what we did last year; we had a chance to beat them down there last year. I understand why we thought that, but we got fooled. They kicked our butt.”
Alfred Blue capped off a short 26-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to make it 20-3 around five minutes into the forth quarter. The score was set up after LSU’s Ryan St. Julien forced and recovered a Warren Norman fumble during a kickoff return at the VU 26.
But the tone of the game was established by LSU’s defensive front line, led by defensive tackle Drake Nevis (2.5 sacks). The Tigers consistently hurried Smith and Vanderbilt never got in an offensive groove. With his receivers smothered by LSU’s secondary, Smith tucked the ball and ran on several occasions.
“We’ve got to learn to get rid of the ball but sometimes it’s hard when they’re all over you before you have a chance to move,” Caldwell said.
Starting center and offensive captain Joey Bailey felt it was a matter of execution for the line. He said they knew what LSU’s defensive line was coming with, but they didn’t meet the challenge.
“Offensive line let the team down (Saturday),” Bailey said. “We didn’t do what we’re supposed to do and it showed out there. We didn’t move the ball, we were giving up too much pressure, we just didn’t execute.”
Caldwell talked about paring the Commodore’s playbook to focus what they do well.
“We’ve got to trim down our schemes and do less, eliminate mistakes,” he explained. “If we have to just run three, four, five plays, then that’s what we’ll do. We’re going to run them good and protect ourselves.”
The Commodores' defense hung tough with LSU until the 17-point fourth quarter, when LSU racked up 150 of its rushing yards. By that time, it was exhausted, in large part, by the offense’s inability to stay on the field.
“We hurt ourselves, we kept going three-and-out and we left our defense out there and they got tired,” Bailey said. “And when we got the ball again we just went three-and-out. “
Down 10-0 early in the third quarter, VU got to the LSU 14 on a 51-yard run by Norman. A personal foul at the end of the run on LSU safety Craig Loston put the ball on the 7. From there, Smith overthrew Brandon Barden on a fade route on second down. On third, Nevis broke the line and sacked Smith for a loss of two yards.
Vanderbilt settled for a field goal.
“The game was always going to be that they think they are more physical and tougher than Vanderbilt,” VU linebacker John Stokes said.
LSU receiver Russell Shepard took a reverse 30 yards untouched to the end zone 40 seconds into the second quarter for the first score of the game.
Played on the ninth year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, both teams ran on the field led by American flags. For VU, Wesley Tate waved a Tennessee state flag and Jay Fullam the national flag as the crowd of 36,940 reflected on the tragic attacks.