Ducks sorely miss suspended CB/PR Harris in loss
LaMichael James hardly had room to run and Darron Thomas looked rusty. Oregon's youngsters seemed awed by LSU's size and intimidated by playing in front 87,711 fans, most clad in LSU colors, as they coughed up turnovers and committed all sorts of penalties.
Still, the No. 3 Ducks might also be left wondering how things might have been different Saturday night if they had their suspended star cornerback and punt returner Cliff Harris.
Kenjon Barner fumbled trying to make something out of nothing on a punt return deep in his own territory, only to have the ball stripped and returned for LSU's first touchdown. Then cornerback Terrance Mitchell got stuck behind a receiver in the end zone while allowing LSU's second touchdown.
Mitchell also was flagged for pass interference on a third-down incompletion that would've forced the Tigers to try a field goal, instead keeping the drive going on the way to their fourth touchdown, and the rout was on. The No. 4 Tigers ended up winning 40-27.
''We really needed Cliff,'' James said.
''Oh yeah,'' Thomas said. ''I think the whole team missed Cliff Harris. ... I know he's going to come out and bust it hard after he seen what happened today.''
Harris, who can be found on nearly every preseason All-America team, was suspended for at least this game by coach Chip Kelly for getting caught going 118 mph while driving with a suspended license.
Coming off a trip to the national championship game, and carrying their best-ever preseason ranking, the Ducks were looking for a strong start this season.
Now they're staring at a two-game losing streak, their first since the end of the 2007 regular season.
Kelly remained as upbeat as possible, talking about LSU having ''a little bit different athlete running around out there right now,'' giants similar to the kind Auburn had in the title game. He wants his young team to remember all this lost cost them was a chance at being undefeated. As long as LSU remains high in the polls, this loss shouldn't hurt too much in the BCS standings.
''It's one game and this is a long, long, long season,'' Kelly said. ''We talk about it all the time as being a 12-round fight. We're down. We didn't get knocked out in Round 1, but we lost Round 1. These kids will come back to work on Monday.''
The Ducks weren't playing great, but were leading 13-9 when Mitchell was beaten with 44 seconds left in the half. Still, that left them down by only a field goal. But an Oregon offense that led the nation in scoring last season went nowhere in the third quarter, gaining only 15 yards and failing to produce a first down. They had only nine snaps, largely because of fumbles by highly touted freshman De'Anthony Thomas on a running play, then on a kickoff return after LSU cashed in his first turnover for a touchdown.
How far the Ducks fall remains to be seen. LSU is an elite team, but the Tigers didn't really do much more than take advantage of what Oregon gave them. LSU scored 20 of its first 30 points off turnovers. The Ducks also set up the Tigers' first field goal with a game-opening drive that was filled by penalties and ended with a shanked punt, letting LSU start its first series at the Oregon 39.
James - a third-place finisher in Heisman Trophy voting last year - gained only 54 yards rushing, one of the worst outings of his career. He had only 49 in the national title game. Still, this was enough to make the junior the leading rusher in school history.
Thomas was 31 of 54 for 240 yards and a touchdown. But his longest completion went for just 18 yards. Not exactly what he was looking for in a game he called ''bigger than the national championship,'' in part because of the grudge he held against LSU. He'd committed to play there in high school, then changed his mind when coach Les Miles wouldn't guarantee him a chance to play quarterback.
''We just got to get back to the drawing board and get better,'' James said. ''I think we were prepared physically. I think we held up just fine in the beginning. I don't think we were ready mentally. We have a lot of underclassmen and people who've never played in a college football game. It was difficult. We had two or three false starts in just one drive. That really hurt us. And fumbles. That really killed us.''
LSU was without two suspended stars, quarterback Jordan Jefferson and receiver Russell Shepard, but hardly missed them.
Jarrett Lee threw for a touchdown, and avoided the mistakes that doomed the Ducks. Michael Ford and Spencer Ware had touchdown runs in a span of 3:20 late in the third quarter and the Tigers enjoyed their second consecutive win at Cowboys Stadium. They ended their 2010 season here in January with a 41-24 victory over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
LSU won its 34th straight non-conference games, the longest such streak in the nation, including all 23 in the regular season under seventh-year coach Les Miles. The overall streak dates back to the Tigers' 26-8 loss to Virginia Tech in the 2002 season opener.
Lee's 10th career start was his first since a win over Louisiana Tech in 2009. Even though the senior completed only 10 of 22 passes for 98 yards, he didn't have an interception and appeared steady throughout the game.
Ware had 26 carries for 99 yards while Fort had 14 runs for 98 yards and two TDs, his second on a 16-yard run in the fourth quarter.
''This is going to show the character of this team, how hard we're going to come back and play after this loss,'' Thomas said.