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09/02/2012 12:11 AM EDT
Hilliard leads No. 3 LSU over North Texas, 41-14
LSU 41, NORTH TEXAS 14

By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Zach Mettenberger could afford to miss a
few throws in a less-than-dazzling first start.



That was apparent from the moment Kenny Hilliard's 6-foot,
231-pound frame burst through the right side of the line and
rumbled away from the North Texas defense for a 38-yard score on
LSU's opening series.



Hilliard rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns, and the No. 3
Tigers opened their season with a 41-14 victory over the Mean
Green on Saturday night.



"Imperfect, but with reason to smile," LSU coach Les Miles said.
"We're going to have very, very good tailback play."



While the heavily favored Tigers were never threatened, their
performance did not always thrill a Death Valley crowd that
eagerly awaited evidence that LSU's passing game would be much
improved with Mettenberger under center.



Mettenberger, who was briefly sidelined by a vicious sack, was
19 of 26 for 192 yards, an interception and a touchdown. But LSU
didn't really need to throw in a game decided by its swarming
defense and a running game that accounted for 316 yards,
including 123 by Blue.



"Mettenberger took a punch in the mouth and got up," Miles said.
"That's one of those things that you have to learn to get the
ball out and to recognize the defense being played. Overall I
liked him and I liked his composure. ... He'll learn to take
what that defense is giving him, rather than pressing."



Derek Thompson completed only 8 of 21 passes, but two passes
were scoring strikes of 80 and 15 yards to Brelan Chancellor.



North Texas coach Dan McCarney, a former defensive line coach at
Florida, gushed about LSU's talent and speed, but also made sure
his players understood that he expects more from them.



"I just thought we'd hang in there better," McCarney said.
"We're not accepting losing. ... It's not a good job 41-14. It's
inexcusable."



LSU's Odell Beckham Jr., taking over punt return duties after
2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu dismissal on Aug.
10, ran one back 70 yards for a score.



"The best way to describe it was that I felt in a really good
rhythm," Beckham said. "There were tremendous blocks and
everybody did exactly what they were supposed to do ... just as
we scripted it in practice."



Beckham nearly had two returns for scores, but his 76-yard
runback was negated by Jarvis Landry's illegal block.



Landry made up for it with eight catches for 82 yards, including
two diving receptions.



Hilliard's second TD came from 5 yards out, and LSU finished
with a whopping 508 yards of offense, its most in a game since
2007.



North Texas gained 219 total yards, with 76 on the ground.



"That's a fast, physical well-coached defense - as usual at
LSU," McCarney said.



The game was played only four days after south Louisiana was
struck by tropical weather from Isaac, which was briefly strong
enough Wednesday to be classified as a hurricane. LSU had to
alter its practice schedule and it was not certain whether the
game would be played until late Thursday afternoon, after Tiger
Stadium had been inspected and authorities deemed the community
fit to host a game drawing more than 90,000 fans.



Some signs of the storm still lingered, including waters stains
on interior walls of the stadium and a malfunctioning video
board about the south end zone, where a large banner
commemorating LSU's three national championships was damaged.



With LSU a six-touchdown favorite, most of the hype surrounding
the opener involved Mettenberger, whose passing ability had
drawn high praise throughout August camp.



The Tiger Stadium crowd roared when Mettenberger was announced
in the starting lineup, but they were gasping late in the first
quarter when blitzing cornerback Hilbert Jackson put
Mettenberger flat on his back and appeared to give the
quarterback whiplash.



Mettenberger left the game for a series while backup Stephen
Rivers, brother of NFL QB Philip Rivers, led LSU on a five-play
scoring drive that ended with Hilliard's second TD.



When Mettenberger returned, he hardly looked sharp, particularly
when he tried to fit a pass into a tight spot along the North
Texas goal line and was intercepted by a diving Zac Whitfield.
The play spoiled a scoring chance set up by Hilliard's 60-yard
run.



With Washington coming to town next week, the Tigers readily
acknowledged they would have to do better.



"Coming off of a game like this we know that we have a lot to
still work on. Everybody knows that," Mettenberger said. "It's
not like we have four preseason games like in the NFL and it is
not like high school when we get a jamboree. It's tough, but
your first game is your first game. ... We got this first one
underneath our belt and we came out with a win."



North Texas never truly threatened, but Chancellor's 80-yard
score on a crossing route, which made it 24-7, was the longest
TD given up by LSU's defense in more than a season. The
completion gave Thompson 106 yards passing in the first half,
compared to Mettenberger's 97.



Mettenberger's touchdown toss came early in the fourth quarter,
when he rifled a throw over the middle to Kadron Boone. The
junior receiver caught it in stride and ran away from the
pursuit for the 34-yard score.

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