ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The point made by big LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery is really hard to dispute right now.
“I would like to speak on behalf of all SEC teams,” Montgomery said after the fourth-ranked Tigers’ 40-27 season-opening win over No. 3 Oregon. “I just think we run the NCAA. Period.”
While Boise State might debate that after winning its opener in SEC country, LSU certainly has already established itself as a contender this season. The SEC has already won five national championships in a row, including the Tigers’ last title in 2007.
Instead of being distracted by the absence of suspended quarterback Jordan Jefferson, the loaded Tigers’ defense stifled an Oregon team that has averaged more than 40 points and 471 yards a game since Chip Kelly arrived as offensive coordinator in 2007 and became head coach two years later.
“They’ve got a little bit different athlete running around out there right now,” Kelly said. “Looking at their D-line, standing next to them walking off the field, they don’t look like a lot of the guys we see.”
These Ducks still have running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas on the offense that last season was the nation’s best and played in the BCS national title game. (They lost when Auburn of the SEC kicked a field goal on the last play).
But they didn’t have standout cornerback-punt returner Cliff Harris because of his suspension. His fill-ins had key mistakes that led to LSU touchdowns.
Harris was suspended indefinitely after police caught him driving 118 mph with a suspended license in June. Oregon needs him back fast, though it is still unclear when he might play again.
LSU can feel a bit more comfortable with Jefferson’s replacement.
While Jarrett Lee was far from spectacular (10-of-22 passing for 98 yards), he threw a touchdown, didn’t have a turnover — he can’t be blamed for the ball snapped behind him — and appeared steady throughout the game at Cowboys Stadium.
“I enjoyed Jarrett Lee’s gutty performance,” coach Les Miles said. “I told him (to) enjoy the position you’re in, it’s an earned one. He never once took the position that he was just a backup.”
It was the senior’s 10th career start, his first since a win over Louisiana Tech in 2009.
There will be more since Jefferson is still suspended indefinitely, as is reserve linebacker Josh Johns, because they are facing felony charges of second degree battery stemming from a bar fight near campus last month.
Cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and several other LSU defenders told Lee before the game they had his back. And they delivered.
“You don’t have to put all the pressure on you,” Mathieu said, relaying what they told the quarterback. “That is what we are here for, to take some pressure off of you.”
Mathieu stripped fill-in punt returner Kenjon Barner, scooped up the ball after it bounced at the 3 and scored for the Tigers early in the second quarter.
Montgomery caused the first of consecutive fumbles by highly touted Oregon freshman De’Anthony Thomas. Those turnovers led to a pair of TD runs by LSU in less than 3½ minutes for a 30-13 lead late in the third quarter.
“I think we took the heart out of those guys,” Mathieu said. “I don’t think they were fighting for anything after that.”
James had one of his worst games at Oregon, with 18 carries for 54 yards, though that was enough to surpass Derek Loville as the school’s career rushing leader with 3,331 yards. Darron Thomas was 31-of-54 passing for 240 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
The Ducks got 70 of their 335 total yards on a drive that ended with DeAnthony Thomas’ 4-yard TD run in the final minute.
If the Ducks are even going to stay in the national championship conversation this season, they have to recover in a hurry. They have consecutive losses for the first time since losing their last three regular-season games in 2007.
Oregon is home Saturday in the season opener for Nevada, which last Thanksgiving weekend beat Boise State to keep the Broncos from being a BCS buster again.
“As I told them in the locker room, you guys better get ready for Round 2 because Round 2 is 13-1 last year with a six-point loss at Hawaii and a coach (Chris Ault) who is in the Hall of Fame,” Kelly said. “We better get ready to play.”
Fifth-ranked Boise State got started this season with a 35-21 victory over 19th-ranked Georgia in the Georgia Dome on Saturday night, at the same time Oregon was losing.
Next for LSU is its home opener against Northwestern State on Saturday, five days before the Tigers play their SEC opener at No. 20 Mississippi State.
“We need to be improved on offense. We don’t feel like we hung the moon in any way,” Miles said. “The defense played a spectacular game. They weren’t perfect either. But they played with an intensity and a speed to the ball. That defense was pretty special.”