Updated at: 09/14/2013 10:05 PM
By BRETT MARTEL
(AP) BATON ROUGE, La. - Jeremy Hill burst across the line of scrimmage untouched, sprinted past pursuing defensive backs and galloped a career-long 58 yards for a score to quickly cap LSU’s opening drive.
The play was a preview. Kent State was overmatched in its first trip to Death Valley as Hill had 117 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries before the second quarter had ended, and the eighth-ranked Tigers cruised to a 45-13 victory on Saturday night.
Zach Mettenberger enjoyed a third productive outing in as many games for LSU (3-0), connecting on 13 of 18 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns in what was the Tigers’ last tuneup before opening Southeastern Conference play. Auburn, which beat Mississippi State 24-20 to improve to 3-0, visits next Saturday.
"We did what we were supposed to do," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I think the out-of-conference play will prepare us. ... We’re looking forward to facing a quality SEC opponent in our stadium next week."
Two of Mettenberger’s scoring strikes went to Jarvis Landry, whose total of five TD catches already this season exemplifies how much the Tigers’ air attack has improved under first-year offensive coordinator and former NFL coach Cam Cameron. Landry had five touchdown catches all of last season.
"It is so much fun to be in this offense this year," Landry said. "Last year at this time we were still struggling offensively. Looking back at it, it kind of makes you laugh because if you look at the same guys now, they are making plays. You see a quarterback that has grown leaps and bounds and emerging. You also see young offensive linemen coming along. I just can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store."
Kent State’s defense had given up nearly 600 yards in a loss a week earlier to Bowling Green, so there was a chance it would only get worse for the Golden Flashes down on the bayou.
"We knew what they were going to run. They obviously weren’t trying to hide anything," Kent State safety Jordan Italiano said of LSU. "We didn’t do a good job executing _ fundamental stuff, some tackling, gave up big plays. We just need to correct that."
LSU covered a five-touchdown point spread against UAB the previous week, and might have done so again against Kent State if not for Miles’ decision to run out the clock deep in Golden Flashes territory.
Mettenberger hit Odell Beckham Jr. five times for 76 yards, including a 5-yard TD in the second half. Fullback Connor Neighbors turned a short catch in the right flat into a 52-yard gain. Terrence Magee rushed nine times for 108 yards, scoring the Tigers’ final touchdown on a 12-yard run.
LSU players had expressed disappointment with the running game a week earlier. Not this time.
"This week we put a lot of emphasis on running the football," Hill said. "It is always good to get back into the grove."
The Tigers gained 307 yards on the ground, with two 100-yard rushers.
"We needed to have some tempo and some feel for the running game," Miles said. "I felt like tonight was an example of what it’s supposed to look like."
Landry’s first touchdown came on a leaping catch in a crowd on a ball Mettenberger threw under pressure from 21 yards out. Landry’s second score came after what would have been Hill’s third TD of the first half was wiped out by an illegal block. Mettenberger hit Landry cutting across the middle, and the receiver easily turned the corner near the right sideline to complete a 31-yard scoring play that made it 31-7 in the second quarter.
Kent State quarterback Colin Reardon completed 20 of 29 passes for 190 yards, ran for a short touchdown and was not intercepted. However, the Golden Flashes (1-2) allowed at least 570 yards for a second straight week and never threatened after falling behind 21-0.
Kent State’s only touchdown came on a 2-yard end run by Reardon earlier in the second quarter. Anthony Melchiori’s 37-yard field goal made it 31-10 shortly before halftime. Although the Golden Flashes managed only a field goal in the second half, they sustained several drives into Tigers’ territory, giving coach Paul Haynes hope his team would fare better at Penn State next week, and in the Mid-American Conference thereafter.
"We’ve got to stick together. We’ve got to make sure we continue to get better and we will," Haynes said. "Our guys are still hungry, and every goal that we wanted to accomplish, we still can."
LSU, meanwhile, continued to rotate numerous young players into action on a defense that lost most of its starters in the offseason. The unit sacked Reardon twice, with D.J. Welter (the first of his career) and Ego Ferguson registering one each.
LSU’s victory came after a week in which a series of Sports Illustrated articles highlighted claims by former Oklahoma State players of booster payments and other misconduct from 2001-11, a span covering Miles’ four years at the school before he came to LSU in 2005.
Miles asserted this week that he ran the Oklahoma State program with integrity and added after the game that he wasn’t allowing the allegations to affect him or his team.
"I am not distracted from my appointed rounds and duties, simply put," Miles said.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)