First off, sorry for the long delay in getting you the next game in the Best Games of Les Miles series. That's my fault, as I was off vacationing in the Land of the Mouse with the Little Poseur and the rest of the family. So I made y'all wait for this game, just as we waited for it in real life.
Going into the 2011 season, expectations were sky high, but there was that constant fear that LSU would get exposed in the first game by the always excellent Oregon Ducks. The flashy, fast-break attack caused not a little bit of consternation in the build up to the game, and LSU worked overtime to deal with the fast pace of the Oregon offense.
The preparation paid off. One of the enduring images of the game is the LSU defensive line getting set before the Oregon offense, pounding on the turf as if asking Oregon to hurry up all ready and get on with it. Oregon tried to break LSU with its pace, but ended up shattering itself instead.
We waited all summer for the season, and LSU made the wait well worth it. This was a total demolition of an excellent football team. It was everything the game was billed to be, and more. This was the coming out party of the 2011 defense.
Not just the defense, but this was the start of the year-long party for maybe the best special teams unit in LSU history. Oregon averaged negative 2.5 yards per punt return. Brad Wing had six punts, two of which pinned Oregon inside the 20, had 0 touchbacks, and he boomed a 58 yarder. LSU dominated field position through the punting game and an opportunistic defense which created some big turnovers.
Now, some of the yardage zealots out there will tell you that LSU got lucky, as they always like to do, because Oregon outgained LSU 335 yards to 273. This sounds great, but it ignores some major factors that were totally within each team's control. First, as already mentioned, was LSU's spectacular special teams play which allowed LSU to dominate filed position. Secondly, Oregon ran 82 plays to LSU's 70, meaning UO averaged 4.09 yards per play to LSU's 3.90 average. That narrowed the gap a bit. Also, Oregon turned into a penalty machine, giving up 95 yards on 12 penalties, giving up any remaining yardage advantage.
However, even this misses the point. Oregon gained 143 yards in fourth quarter against LSU's second teamers while LSU only gained 45 yards in the final frame. Going into the final quarter, LSU held a healthy 228-192 yardage advantage. Bolstered by four turnovers, LSU went into the final quarter with a 30-13 lead, extended to 33-13 in the first minute of the fourth. Oregon dominated garbage time, LSU dominated the game.
Oregon scored a meaningless touchdown with 13 seconds left, capping a 10 play, 70 yard drive to cut LSU's margin of victory from 20 to 13. This was a 40-27 game in which the game wasn't nearly as close as the score.
Before that final quarter, Oregon only had two drives of 20 yards or more, and each took over 10 plays. Seven of their first ten drives failed to even gain a first down, and one of those to buck the trend actually netted negative yards. This was a thorough ass-kicking on the part of the defense.
The 2011 LSU team may have been one of the best college football teams to ever take the field. It will likely be remembered as "what if" team, falling just short of the title. But on that first game of the season in Dallas, they lived up to every ounce of their promise.
This was the moment a great team told the college football world exactly how great they were. It was an amazing sight to behold.