- Gary Laney, Reporter, GeauxTigerNation
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- After all the hype about new quarterback Zach Mettenberger's debut, LSU still looked like a Les Miles football team during Saturday's season-opening 41-14 thumping of North Texas.
The Tigers piled up 315 rushing yards to spearhead a 508-yard attack (more than any game last season), leaning on the tandem of the big, physical Kenny Hilliard (141 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns) and the faster and somewhat leaner Alfred Blue (123 yards on 16 carries) to pound its Sun Belt Conference foe. They were, as they like the call themselves, "Thunder and Lightning" for the Tigers.
Well, unless you you like Miles' "Talladega Nights" movie reference more.
"I kind of like the Will Farrell movie, the NASCAR guy," he said with a smile.
You mean Shake and Bake?
"Yeah, that's it, Shake and Bake," he said, leaning back with a smile.
While it was hard at times to figure out who was shaking and who was baking -- the bigger Hillard looked absolutely speedy as he busted off runs of 60 and 38 yards while Blue had one explosive carry of 37 yards but also had a lot of physical, inside carries -- it was clear that the approach fans saw Saturday was familiar with all the usual Miles plays.
The power toss was there. The horizontal passing game, intended to loosen up the middle of the line in the "box", was there. Even the often fan-maligned option to the short side made a brief appearance and actually worked for a 12-yard gain.
"We were just running the usual plays we like to run," said center P.J. Lonergan. "We were sticking to our type of football. Having those fresh backs behind us ... they really ran well."
And often. LSU ran on 46 of 72 offensive plays. And most often, when the Tigers strayed from the run, it was to go to a horizontal passing game with quick hitches and screens to the receivers.
"They are like an extension of the running game," Mettenberger said. "It's just like running a toss sweep."
Miles explained that when the North Texas defense kept things piled up in the box, a quick screen pass from Mettenberger, who was 19-for-26 for 192 yards, was just what the doctor ordered.
"It helps," he said, "with our running game."
Strategically, even with the big arm on Mettenberger, it all added up to LSU being the same ol' LSU, for better or worse. The Tigers pounded the Mean Green. After Hilliard and Blue delivered enough blows, 2011's leading rusher, Michael Ford, joined the party late for 50 yards on eight carries. The only tailback among last year's big four who didn't touch the ball was Spencer Ware, who starred in last year's opener, but was a non-factor Saturday.
"We played very well," Hilliard said. "We made a few mistakes, but overall I give credit to the O-line for neutralizing the perimeter."
Hilliard got things rolling with a 38-yard touchdown run for LSU's first score of the season in the first quarter, exploding through a gaping hole on a cut-back run and looking far more nimble than his listed 6-foot, 231 pounds would suggest.
"I just followed [fullback J.C. Copeland]," he said. "I saw everybody going to the outside and I just followed J.C. and all I saw was green grass."
It established what was working for the Tigers. Mettenberger took a hard hit on a sack later in the first quarter and LSU leaned more heavily on the run after that. Even Copeland, a converted defensive tackle who had two career carries in two seasons, had four touches for 34 yards and a touchdown.
"We had some chances [to throw it deep], but we stuck with what was working," Mettenberger said. "If it's working, why chance?"
And that's the thing about Miles-coached LSU teams.
Fans often scream for a more open offense, but the Tigers keep producing with Miles' favored physical running game. When things are going well, why change?
"I liked our backs," Miles said. "I think Blue is really going to have a good fall. He is quicker, stronger and more capable. I think Kenny Hilliard is ready to play. I didn't mind Michael Ford. He came in and played.
"Again, we're going to have very good tailback play."
Does that mean the Tigers won't throw the ball as the season progresses? Perhaps an offensive minded opponent like next week's opponent, Washington, can force the Tigers' into a more wide-open approach.
But until that hand is forced, it's reasonable to expect Miles to ask his team "Shake 'n Bake."