ARLINGTON, Texas – LaMichael James hardly had room to run and Darron Thomas looked rusty. Oregon’s youngsters seemed awed by LSU’s size and intimidated by playing in front 87,711 fans, most clad in LSU colors, as they coughed up turnovers and committed all sorts of penalties.
Still, the No. 3 Ducks might also be left wondering how things might have been different Saturday night if they had their suspended star cornerback and punt returner Cliff Harris.
Kenjon Barner fumbled trying to make something out of nothing on a punt return deep in his own territory, only to have the ball stripped and returned for LSU’s first touchdown. Then cornerback Terrance Mitchell got stuck behind a receiver in the end zone while allowing LSU’s second touchdown.
Mitchell also was flagged for pass interference on a third-down incompletion that would’ve forced the Tigers to try a field goal, instead keeping the drive going on the way to their fourth touchdown, and the rout was on. The No. 4 Tigers ended up winning 40-27.
“We really needed Cliff,” James said.
“Oh yeah,” Thomas said. “I think the whole team missed Cliff Harris.”
Harris, who can be found on nearly every preseason All-America team, was suspended for at least this game by coach Chip Kelly for getting caught going 118 mph while driving with a suspended license.
Coming off a trip to the national championship game, and carrying their best preseason ranking, the Ducks were looking for a strong start.
Now they’re staring at a two-game losing streak, their first since the end of the 2007 regular season.
Kelly remained as upbeat as possible, talking about LSU having “a little bit different athlete running around out there right now,” giants similar to the kind Auburn had in the title game.
“It’s one game and this is a long, long, long season,” Kelly said. “These kids will come back to work on Monday.”