Four LSU true freshmen start season opener, several other play early vs. BYU
LSU has a history of true freshmen starting football games. But not quite like this.
A possible-record four started — and made their presence felt — in an eventual 27-0 defeat of BYU (1-1) on Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to headline a deep group of first-time contributors called upon in Game No. 1.
“We knew they were gonna play,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “We prepared them. These were some of the best freshmen I’ve seen around. I thought they were gonna play well. Actually, I probably thought they were gonna make more mistakes than they did.
“I think that’s a credit to our older guys. They helped coach ’em up, and they stayed calm on the sidelines and calm before the game. And credit our coaches that coach their positions. They managed their positions, and they did very well.”
True freshmen had started in 60 of the Tigers’ 65 games from 2011 to 2015, prior to a 2016 drought as a result of a more-veteran roster.
But cornerback Kevin Toliver in 2015, wide receiver Trey Quinn in 2014 and defensive back Jalen Mills in 2012 were the only true freshmen to start in the past five season openers.
And no more than one had done so in any opener since at least 2005, according to NOLA.com.
“They know they’re not in high school anymore,” junior running back Derrius Guice said. “They don’t walk around and every time they mess or do something wrong, say, ‘Oh, I’m just getting here. I’m a freshman.’ They practice and play like they’re veterans. That’s the biggest key.
“My class, we had a lot of childish guys still thinking they’re in high school. This class, they’re just way more mature than the previous classes. And I feel like that’s a major step. Whenever you wanna learn the offense, whenever you wanna play, it’s about maturity. It’s about growing up. They know they’re not in high school anymore.”
Saahdiq Charles was the first to do so Saturday and the first to do so on the offensive side of the ball since Quinn’s 11-yard reception and 2-yard run in LSU’s most recent AdvoCare Texas Kickoff, a 28-24 defeat of Wisconsin.
The 6-foot-5, 321-pound Jackson, Miss., product, originally from New Orleans, split time at right guard with fellow true freshman Ed Ingram.
“I thought Saahdiq Charles played very well tonight,” Orgeron said. “I’m sure Ed Ingram did.”
But the youth movement really made its impact when the Tigers’ defense took the field for the first time.
Safety Grant Delpit and linebackers K’Lavon Chaisson and Tyler Taylor all joined Charles to push the total to four true freshman starters.
Linebacker Jacob Phillips and cornerbacks Jontre Kirklin and Kary Vincent Jr. joined Ingram as other true freshmen to come off the bench early, with others following suit.
“No. 24 (Taylor) was all over the field,” Orgeron said. “K’Lavon Chaisson was all over the field. No. 15 (Vincent) was all over the field. Those guys, they were ready, man. They were fired up. But you know what? We had seen those things in practice and thought we were in a good position.”
Quarterback Myles Brennan, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, safety Todd Harris, wide receiver Justin Jefferson, wide receiver Racey McMath, linebacker Patrick Queen and defensive linemen Neil Farrell and Justin Thomas.
“I was pleased to see that we got Miles Brennan to play some snaps,” Orgeron said.
Several redshirt freshmen added to the long list of fresh faces that greeting LSU fans on the big stage.
Cornerback Andraez “Greedy” Williams started and provided an interception and three tackles.
“From Day One, freshmen have to play here,” said sophomore defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence, who played in nine games as a freshman in 2016. “That’s what we do. It’s LSU. Freshmen are expected to play. And we lost a lot of people at different positions, so they knew they had to come in and play. From Day One, they knew. And they did very well.”
Connor Culp and Jack Gonsoulin handled the kickoff and place-kicking duties, respectively, with Gonsoulin providing a pair of field goals and three extra points.
Offensive linemen Lloyd Cushenberry and Jakori Savage, defensive lineman Glen Logan, safety Eric Monroe, tight end Jamal Petttigrew and linebackers Ray Thornton and Layton Garnett were among the other redshirt freshmen to play Saturday.
“We believe in this freshman class,” Orgeron said. “Now, obviously our opponents are gonna get tougher down the road, and we need to get these guys ready.”
One reporter asked Lawrence whether players who missed Saturday’s contest for either injury or suspension — among them, cornerbacks Toliver, Kristian Fulton and Xavier Lewis and linebackers Arden Key, Donnie Alexander, Mike Divinity Jr. and Andre Anthony — might have a difficult time regaining starting roles after the strong freshman showing.
“We’ll see,” he laughed. “We compete every week, so we’ll see. Probably so.”
Jerit Roser can be reached at Jerit@DatBoot.com.