LSU made its first ever trip to the Rose Bowl a memorable one, with a 38-27 loss to the previously unranked UCLA Bruins.
The Tigers had a lot of questions to be answered coming in to the game, and the early returns are not satisfactory.
Coach Ed Orgeron’s new coaching staff looked lost on both sides of the ball as LSU was dominated strategically and physically.
Just by looking at the final stats, you’d think that Chip Kelly’s Bruins were the SEC team, and the Tigers were the pass-happy, finesse team.
UCLA’s offense racked up 476 yards against an LSU defense that didn’t look much different than the team’s 2020 edition, at least in terms of production. On drive after drive, the Bruins offensive line pushed the Tigers back and opened holes for quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, along with running backs Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown.
Thompson Robinson finished the night 9-of-16 for 260 yards and three scores. Charbonnet (117) and Brown (95) combined for 212 yards on only 28 carries.
Meanwhile, the Tigers managed just 48 rushing yards on 25 carries. It marked the fourth time that LSU has gained less than 50 yards on the ground in its last 11 games.
Because of the lack of a running game, sophomore Max Johnson had the burden of the offense placed on his shoulders. In his third career start Johnson was 26 of 46 for 330 yards and tied his career-high with three TD passes.
The LSU offensive line struggled to protect him, he made some bad throws, and at times his receivers failed to help him out.
Except, of course, for Kayshon Boutte. Boutte picked up right where he left off from his record-setting performance against Mississippi in last season’s finale, with 9 catches for 148 yards. He also caught all three of Johnson’s touchdown passes, tying his own career-high.
The finish was a disappointment, but there was optimism at the outset, with the Tigers returning a very talented core.
After a scoreless first quarter, LSU was the first to enter the scoring column.
Johnson found a rhythm against the aggressive Bruins front, going 4-for-5 for 45 yards, and taking the Tigers on an eight-play, 63 yard scoring drive that was capped by a three-yard touchdown pass to Boutte.
The lead was short-lived.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Thompson-Robinson rolled to his right and found a wide open Greg Dulcich. Dulchich made a man miss and then was off to the races for a 75-yard touchdown. He had three catches for 117 yards overall.
After a quick three-and-out by the Tigers, UCLA was able to take the lead after Zach Charbonnet’s 12-yard touchdown run with 9:49 remaining in the first half.
LSU had its next drive stalled by penalty, but Avery Atkins’ punt buried the Bruins at their own six yard line.
Eli Ricks intercepted a badly thrown ball by Thompson-Robinson, setting the Tigers up with great field position at the UCLA 33 yard line.
Unfortunately, LSU could only manage a Cade York field goal, and went into the half trailing 10-14.
The teams alternated scores in the third quarter, each posting 10 points to enter the fourth quarter with the Bruins still holding on to a four-point advantage.
UCLA went back to its ground game and was able to put back to back scoring drives together to open the fourth quarter, pushing the lead to 38-20 with 6:31 remaining in the game.
Boutte’s third TD of the night, a 45-yard catch and run, brought the Tigers back within two scores, but the Bruins were able to bleed the clock from there.
The Tigers dropped their season opener for the second consecutive season, and Ed Orgeron fell to 2-12 when trailing at the half.
That stat speaks to the Tigers’ ability to adjust and adapt. They failed to do so on Saturday night in the Rose Bowl.
They had better do so if they have any chance of competing for an SEC West championship, let alone a conference title.
LSU (0-1) returns home to face FCS program McNeese State next Saturday night at Tiger Stadium.