BATON ROUGE - "Welcome to Death Valley," the gold neon beams from the center of Tiger Stadium.
On Saturday night during No. 23 LSU's uninspired 35-26 victory over 23-point underdog Syracuse, which was within 28-26 in the final minutes, it should have read "Goodbye from Vacant Valley."
As LSU struggled through a horrendous first quarter of 10 yards on 10 plays and led by just 14-3 at the half and could not put The Orange away in the third quarter, the stadium with all the mystique became the stadium of myth as thousands exited leaving about only 20,000 for the nervous final minutes.
"As you make your way out," Tiger Stadium announcer Dan Borne began after it was over to a stadium already nearly empty.
Tiger Stadium - Chance of Capacity for Anyone Other than Alabama, NEVER!
With LSU leading 28-19 in the third quarter, a group of a half dozen Tiger fans decided to leave, but not before cheering for the defense to stop another Syracuse drive.
In other words, "Hey, we've got to go, but DE-FENSE."
By the fourth quarter, it looked like a Tulane game or - worse yet - a LSU spring game.
And in the third quarter, LSU fans got what they seemingly always want - the backup quarterback. True freshman Myles Brennan took over for starter Danny Etling, who appeared to be shaken up by a sack on the previous series.
Brennan finished 4-for-6 passing for 75 yards and led the Tigers on a 91-yard touchdown drive in six plays to put LSU up 28-10 with 5:22 to go in the third quarter. He found tailback Darrel Williams on a swing pass that turned into a 43-yard gain to the Syracuse 20-yard line. Williams scored on the next play, and LSU looked in control.
Hey, another reason to leave the stadium.
But Syracuse decided to stay until the end of the game.
The Tigers found themselves pinned on its 1-yard line follwoing a 58-yard punt by Syracuse's Sterling Hofrichter. And new LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada responded with the worst call of his new career, unless Brennan checked off to the wrong play.
Canada and LSU coach Orgeron were sweating their right guard position all night as starter Ed Ingram and backup Saahdiq Charles struggled throughout the first half in a rotation. Finally, sophomore Adrian Magee took over at right guard, but also struggled. And on first down from the LSU 1-yard line, Williams ran behind Magee. The result was a tackle in the end zone by Parris Bennett for a safety, and LSU's lead was down to 28-12.
"Their defensive line was stunting and penetrating and getting into our backfield," Orgeron said.
LSU then had to kick off to Syracuse, which promptly drove 72 yards in 10 plays to cut LSU's lead to 28-19 on a 14-yard run by quarterback Eric Dungey.
Then Brennan made a freshman mistake. He threw an interception at the Syracuse 20, which was LSU's first turnover of the season. Syracuse .proceeded to drive 80 yards in 13 plays, shredding the Tigers' troubled defense to get within 28-26 with 5:40 to play.
"We wanted to give Myles a chance with the game on the line," said Orgeron, who said Etling was not injured..
And Orgeron got what he wanted. Brennan put the game square on the line more with the interception.
Etling replaced Brennan on the next possession, but LSU kept it on the ground for all seven plays of a 56-yard touchdown drive to put the game away at 35-26 with 1:52 to play. Etling dropped back to pass once, but ended up scrambling for eight yards.
"Danny is our starting quarterback," Orgeron said.
Etling threw an 87-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Drake Davis on the first play of the third quarter to give LSU a 21-3 lead. Syracuse struck right back with a 75-yard drive in eight plays for a touchdown and 21-10 deficit.
The best call of the night by halftime was by the LSU band, which broke into a "Looney Tunes" number after a comical first half by the Tigers' offense.
LSU and Canada were held to 10 total yards on 10 plays in the first quarter. It was as if Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim's patented zone defense had made its way to Tiger Stadium Saturday night.
The Tigers finally found some breathing room and drove 71 yards in six plays late in the second quarter to take a 14-3 halftime lead on a 43-yard touchdown strike from Etling to wide receiver Stephen Sullivan.
LSU managed to finish the half with 141 yards on 32 plays, but just 46 rushing yards on 17 carries. The Tigers "totaled" -1 yard rushing in the first quarter on five carries. Etling finished 8-of-15 passing for 95 yards in the first half after completing just 2 of 5 for 11 yards in the first quarter.
The Tigers started off on fire. On the first play from scrimmage, LSU cornerback Andraez Williams jumped on pass to intercept Dungey and returned it 28 yards to the 1-yard line. On the next play, tailback Derrius Guice scored and LSU took a 7-0 lead with the extra point with 14:51 to go in the first quarter. But that was it for good while. It was the third interception of the season for Williams, a redshirt freshman from Calvary Baptist in Shreveport.
Minutes later, Williams intercepted another pass in the east corner of the north end zone for his fourth of the season, but it was ruled an incomplete pass after a replay review. Syracuse kicker Cole Murphy then booted a 42-yard field goal to get the Orange within 7-3 with 7:58 to go in the first quarter.
LSU's defense gave up 308 passing yards to Dungey, who completed 34 of 55 passes. The Tigers finally cut down on the penalties with just three for 25 yards, but there was a critical one.
Leading 28-19 in the fourth quarter, LSU forced a third-and-19 from the Syracuse 27 and got an incomplete pass from Dungey. But true freshman outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson was called for roughing the passer that gave Syracuse a first down at its 42. Nine plays later, Dungey hit wide receiver Steve Ishmael for a 22-yard touchdown to cut LSU's lead to 28-26.
The 65,000 who left missed LSU finally closing it out.
"I'm awfully glad we won that game," Orgeron said, picking one of his words expertly. LSU looked awful most of the night.
"It wasn't pretty. It wasn't exciting," Orgeron said. "But we won."
But Georgia beat Mississippi State, 31-3, Saturday night. So Mississippi State is not the world beater it resembled last week. And LSU is looking a lot like 7-5.
Plenty of tickets available.
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