Stout LSU defense shuts down Vandy, 27-3

Zac Stacy (AP/George Walker IV)

NASHVILLE-- Stevan Ridley rushed 17 times for 159 yards and a touchdown, and an aggressive LSU defense kept Vanderbilt on its heels all night, as the No. 19 Tigers stuffed the Commodores 27-3 Saturday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both schools.

LSU improved to 2-0, 1-0 in the SEC. Vanderbilt dropped to 0-2, 0-1 on the season, losing its tenth game in a row dating back to 2009. The loss left rookie head coach Robbie Caldwell still seeking his first win.

The Tiger defense registered six sacks of Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith and held Vanderbilt to a mere 135 total yards. It was a dismal performance for a Vanderbilt offense that had struggled for most of the 2009 season, but had rolled up a respectable 432 yards the week before against Northwestern.

"[It was a] rough night," said Caldwell. "We got out-physicaled up front, offensively, and I was very disappointed. I know we got some inexperienced guys up there but I didn't think we'd get hit, out-physicaled quite that much.

"My hat's off to them."

Despite the lack of offensive production, the Commodores trailed only 10-3 at the end of the third quarter, and a lively Vanderbilt Stadium crowd of 36,940 remained on hand, hoping the home team might hang around and steal one in the fourth quarter from the favored Bayou Bengals.

Instead, they saw a close game get quickly out of hand. The Vanderbilt defense, left on the field way too long as a result of the offense's struggles, seemed to wear down, as LSU shifted primarily to a ground attack. The result? the Tigers exploded for 17 fourth-quarter points.

The Commodores also hurt themselves with 7 penalties for 52 yards. Vanderbilt committed only a single turnover, but it was a costly one-- a fumble on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter that led directly to an LSU score.

The Vandy offense never quite found a groove. The rushing attack produced only 65 yards, and 51 of those yards came on a single play. Smith, running for his life from LSU's front four most of the night, was 8-of-15 for 70 yards. He was relieved on the final series by senior Jared Funk.

"They were big and strong and fast and quick," said team captain and center Joey Bailey of LSU's defense. "As an offensive line we didn't execute. We didn't maintain blocks and we didn't engage together."

After a scoreless and relatively evenly played first quarter, speedster Russell Shepard took a handoff and went 30 yards untouched around left end for a score just inside the second quarter. The nifty run gave LSU a 7-0 lead, and a subsequent Josh Jasper field goal gave the Bengals a 10-0 halftime lead.

A 51-yard scamper by Warren Norman in the third quarter set up Vanderbilt's only score of the night. That run and a penalty gave the Commodores a first-and-goal at the LSU 4, but the best they could manage was a 23-yard Ryan Fowler field goal.

The Tigers answered by driving 60 yards to the Vandy 7, from which Casey Hayward picked off a Jordan Jefferson pass in the end zone to save a touchdown. But Jasper would tack on another field goal early in the fourth quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff Norman fumbled the ball away, setting up LSU on the Vandy 26. Four plays later, freshman Alfred Blue dashed 6 yards up the middle for a score, stretching the Tigers' lead to 20-3. The final blow came with 4:34 left in the game, when Ridley went 65 yards off tackle untouched for a score.

"Our defense played pretty well except for one option run," said LSU coach Les Miles, under fire after his team had nearly blown a big lead to North Carolina the week previous. "We needed to finish this game strong, and our defense played well from start to finish."

The Commodores head to Oxford, Miss. next Saturday for their first road game and first day game of the season. The SEC-TV network will regionally televise the contest between Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, with kickoff set for 11:20 a.m. CT. LSU faces Mississippi State Saturday in its home opener.

GAME NOTES:

Offensive tackle Ryan Seymour returned to action after missing the opener against Northwestern. Defensive back Jamie Graham, still nursing a groin injury, did not play.

LSU rotates off Vanderbilt's schedule and will not return until 2014. In its last six meetings with LSU, the Commodores have scored in single digits.

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