By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports
BATON ROUGE – LSU running back Noah Cain had three seasons at Penn State under his belt before arriving in Baton Rouge. He knows a thing or two about playing in cold and wet conditions.
So it was no shock – Cain was able. He handled Saturday night’s miserable weather like a duck landing on University Lake.
With a largely quiet Tiger Stadium staring them down, the sixth-ranked Tigers relied on their own toughness to steadily grind out a 41-10 win over Alabama-Birmingham. Cane pounded in three short touchdown runs as LSU (9-2) wrapped up its home slate with only a few thousand hardy souls in the stands as the game wound down, solidly in the Tigers’ grasp.
“I was telling a lot of the guys on the team that this is a warm day up north,” Cain said with a grin. “Really, it was about the mental toughness speech Coach [Brian] Kelly kept saying over and over again until it was really drilled into our head, and we showed that tonight.”
The former Nittany Lion, a junior, made the most of his opportunities, scoring three times and piling up 76 yards on 13 touches. He was the primary beneficiary of two scratches on the running back depth chart, as both Josh Williams (knee) and Armoni Goodwin (knee) were inactive. Kelly said that Williams is expected back next week against Texas A&M, while Goodwin is done for the season.
Cain’s UAB counterpart, DeWayne McBride, didn’t fare so well, despite a sparkling worksheet this season.
The junior running back, who had the second-most rushing yards (156 per game) across the FBS entering Saturday’s game, was limited to just 35 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. McBride’s bad night was a testament to the rushing attacks that LSU faced before him, Kelly said.
“We’ve been challenged with the great backs, last week against Arkansas, or this week,” Kelly said. “Earlier in the year, obviously, we’ve had many challenges, whether it’s Alabama or Ole Miss’ running game. This group has responded to those challenges. It’s a collection of a number of guys just buying in and doing their jobs and it goes back to … accountability.”
After a pedestrian performance against Arkansas, LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels turned in his third 100-yard rushing performance of the season, racking up 112 and a touchdown on the ground to go along with 297 yards and a touchdown through the air on 22-of-29 passing.
All told, Daniels was responsible for 409 of the Tigers’ 565 yards of offense against UAB (5-6), who had curtailed an explosive North Texas offense a week earlier.
“We wanted to bounce back from what we felt was offensively less than our best game. I think Arkansas had something to do with it, (and) we had something to do with it,” Kelly said about the aggressive playcalling on offense. “Jayden prepared really well, and you can make the case that this was his best game of the year. He pushed the ball down the field vertically, he saw things, he was assertive.”
LSU broke open the scoring on the night’s first drive on a two-yard run by John Emery, Jr., but Jermaine Brown, Jr. took the ensuing kickoff 66 yards to set up the Blazers on a short field. DeWayne McBride punched in UAB’s only touchdown from five yards out for an early 7-7 tie.
The Tigers responded with touchdowns on four of their next five drives, including Cain’s three rushing touchdowns, the last creating a commanding 28-10 lead with 40 seconds left before halftime. A touchdown rush by Daniels in the third and a touchdown catch by Brian Thomas, Jr. in the fourth garnished the outcome, which was secured by the increasingly stingy LSU defense.
The mental toughness that Kelly harped on his players over the week paid dividends on Saturday. It’s a talking point Kelly wanted to make for a long time prior. It’s a sign of the team’s maturation, that they can handle anything the elements and a half-empty Tiger Stadium can throw at them.
“I’m so proud of our mental toughness and their ability to do it the right way late in November against a team they’re supposed to beat,” Kelly said. “The wins have been nice. The individual achievements have been really neat — the SEC West Championship. But I’m most proud of the mental toughness this group has shown.”
Contact Ryne at firstname.lastname@example.org