PASADENA, Calif. — Max Johnson, Louisiana State’s sophomore quarterback, backpedaled a number of steps as he felt the warmth of the U.C.L.A. cross rush. When that maneuver didn’t purchase him sufficient time, he pivoted and started to run backward till, with one other Bruins defender closing in, he realized that was a dangerous thought.
So Johnson got here up with a worse thought: With his again to the road of scrimmage, he flung the ball backward, sending it up within the air like a bride blindly tossing a bouquet to her bridesmaids.
Johnson wasn’t punished for his frazzled indiscretion — the ball miraculously hit the turf earlier than it hit the palms of any Bruins — and the Tigers kicked a subject objective on the subsequent play. But Johnson’s mind cramp, within the Tigers’ 38-27 loss to U.C.L.A., was a becoming metaphor for what has change into of L.S.U.’s soccer program because it stormed to a nationwide championship 20 months in the past.
In the Superdome in New Orleans that evening, which ended with Joe Burrow puffing on a cigar, Odell Beckham Jr. handing gamers hundred-dollar payments and Coach Ed Orgeron — the primary L.S.U. coach who the natives mentioned didn’t discuss humorous — capping a redemptive profession flip, looks as if an epoch in the past.
Now the Tigers seem like a mess.
They weren’t simply overwhelmed on Saturday evening. It appeared of their season opener as if final yr’s backslide to 5-5 was not an aberration. When the brand new offensive and defensive coordinators who have been supposed to repair damaged schemes weren’t being bamboozled, the gamers, who have been a part of three consecutive top-five recruiting lessons, have been overwhelmed up alongside the traces of scrimmage by a group that has traditionally been as delicate as its child blue uniforms.
In truth, Orgeron, after being heckled by a fan whereas strolling into the Rose Bowl earlier within the day, shot again, telling the fan to deliver it on — “in your little sissy blue shirt.”
The episode was very a lot in character for the barrel-chested, gravel-throated, former defensive position coach, who, after snapping an eight-game dropping streak to Alabama in 2019, informed his group it could beat the Crimson Tide “every time we see them,” on the sphere or in recruiting.
Perhaps what he witnessed on Saturday evening had left him chastened, however Orgeron was unusually measured — scientific even. There have been no outbursts on the sideline, and when he spoke to the information media on a video teleconference, he bottled any fury that may have been percolating in his intestine. He mentioned he must look at the movie, the outcomes of which he would share along with his gamers on what he calls Tell the Truth Monday, earlier than questioning his group’s toughness. Really, although, he might have simply appeared at a stat sheet: U.C.L.A. (2-Zero) outrushed his group 210 yards to 48.
The delicate contact could also be in response to a troublesome week the Tigers endured.
Linebacker Mitchell Agude celebrated U.C.L.A.’s win over Louisiana State on Saturday in Pasadena, Calif.Credit…Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
They have been chased out of Baton Rouge final weekend forward of Hurricane Ida, busing within the useless of the evening to Houston, the place they practiced all week whereas the gamers whose households lived within the path of the storm checked on their family members, a handful of whom had severe injury to their properties. Orgeron’s highschool in Larose, La., had intensive injury.
“It’s been a long week, a long seven days,” mentioned Kayshon Boutte, a sophomore receiver from New Iberia, La.
But Boutte, who carried the offense with 9 catches for 148 yards and all three of the Tigers’ touchdowns, mentioned the travails had little to do with the loss.
“I’m just going to be real,” he added. “We got beat tonight. Got beat up front and beat all around.”
The championship sheen has not been dulled solely by efficiency. An investigation, spurred by reporting by USA Today, discovered this yr that L.S.U. athletic division directors lined up sexual assault complaints in opposition to a former operating again, Derrius Guice, and fought to maintain quiet sexual harassment allegations in opposition to a former coach, Les Miles. Two directors who didn’t act on the assault complaints have been disciplined however not fired. Orgeron was added to a Title IX swimsuit in June, which claimed the coach knew about and didn’t report an alleged rape by Guice.
“It’s very troubling to hear all those things that went on,” mentioned Jeb Butler, a doctor from Ruston, La., who was among the many 20,000 or so L.S.U. followers who discovered their approach to the Rose Bowl for this weekend’s recreation. As lots of them tailgated on the Brookside golf course across the stadium, they appeared to relish a game-day expertise that had been on hiatus final season when gatherings have been both restricted or prohibited due to the pandemic.
“It’s another way to incorporate Mardi Gras into a random weekend,” mentioned his buddy Forrest Wright, a physician from Shreveport, La., earlier than pointing to his trousers. “Where else am I going to wear purple pants?”
Such a festive environment has been absent at U.C.L.A. for years.
The Bruins have had 5 consecutive dropping seasons, their attendance dwindled in 2019 to its lowest since shifting to the Rose Bowl in 1982 — barely cracking 40,000 per recreation — and curiosity in this system had diminished to the purpose the place six sections of seats within the north finish zone have been lined by tarps. To enhance the group on Saturday, U.C.L.A. gave away hundreds of tickets to U.C.L.A. college students, youth soccer applications, highschool college students and veterans.
The crowd, swelled by the freebies and introduced at 68,123, noticed what is perhaps the beginning of a long-anticipated awakening beneath Coach Chip Kelly. Patience had been carrying skinny with Kelly, who appeared to have a cheat code along with his fast-break offense at Oregon earlier than he left for the N.F.L. But he appeared intent on a methodical rebuild that’s now in its fourth yr.
His file at U.C.L.A. stands at 12-21, and the athletic division was greater than $40 million within the purple — even earlier than accounting for final season, which was performed with out in-person spectators.
“This is the year it has to happen,” Troy Aikman, who was on the search committee that landed Kelly with a five-year, $23.three million contract, mentioned on the sphere earlier than the sport. “There’s got to be progress this year. The time is now.”
Aikman was amongst 150 or so former Bruins who attended a non-public memorial service in Beverly Hills on Friday for the longtime coach Terry Donahue, who died in July. Donahue was the embodiment of the Gutty Little Bruin, a 190-pound defensive lineman who helped the Bruins win the Rose Bowl as a participant after which coached the group to 4 extra appearances and three extra victories within the recreation.
Saturday’s efficiency certainly would have happy him.
The Bruins’ protection combined its coverages and despatched an assortment of rushes at Johnson, leaving him battered and at occasions bewildered, and thwarted a operating assault that Orgeron admitted had change into predictable. (It didn’t assist that a prime again, John Emery Jr., was one in all three L.S.U. gamers held out for tutorial causes.)
On the opposite facet of the ball, the Bruins, utilizing intelligent schemes, repeatedly gashed L.S.U. with their two finest gamers. Running again Zach Charbonnet, a switch from Michigan, had 117 yards speeding and one landing on 11 carries, together with 35 yards receiving — an audition that certainly caught the attention of eight N.F.L. scouts who watched from the press field.
And staying away from L.S.U.’s elite cornerback tandem, Eli Ricks (who nonetheless managed an interception) and Derek Stingley Jr., the Bruins focused tight finish Greg Dulcich, who caught three passes for 117 yards, together with a 75-yard landing reception through which he ran by way of three Tigers.
When receiver Kyle Philips made a related run, breaking two tackles — together with an try by Stingley — for a 45-yard landing with 6 minutes 31 seconds left, droves of L.S.U. followers adopted a acquainted Los Angeles ritual: They headed for an exit early.
Along the guests’ sideline, there was disbelief. Safety Todd Harris Jr. sat on a stationary bike with out pedaling, staring into the gap within the remaining minutes. The offensive linemen huddled round two coaches, attempting to resolve the puzzle of the cross rush.
And when the clock expired, and U.C.L.A. quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson chucked the soccer within the air and fireworks crackled, Orgeron and his gamers made their approach to a tunnel at the south finish of the stadium. As the Tigers did, they handed by way of a sea of confetti that not way back was meant for them.