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.