BATON ROUGE, La. — For North Texas coach Dan McCarney, part of turning a program around is refusing to accept a lopsided loss against a national title contender like LSU.
So even after the Mean Green played well enough to cause LSU fans to briefly boo their own offense, McCarney wasn't passing around many compliments after a 41-14 loss to the third-ranked Tigers on Saturday night.
"I just thought we'd hang in there better," McCarney said. "It's not a good job 41-14. It's inexcusable. ... If it eats you up inside, then we have a chance to move forward and get better."
Derek Thompson completed only 8 of 21 passes, but two passes were scoring strikes of 80 and 15 yards to Brelan Chancellor. Thompson finished with 143 yards passing, threw an interception, but did not take a sack.
"We have things build off of but we're still disappointed that we didn't come out and play like we're supposed to," Chancellor said. "We had too many missed opportunities."
At times, the Mean Green frustrated LSU's Zach Mettenberger in the heavily hyped quarterback's first start, but North Texas had no answer for the Tigers' powerful ground game.
Kenny Hilliard ran for 141 yards and touchdowns of 38 and 5 yards. Alfred Blue added 123 yards for LSU, which finished with 316 yards rushing.
"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 Hilbert Jackson's vicious sack, was 19 of 26 for 192 yards, an interception and a touchdown.
Still, LSU had other ways to score.
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 touchdown.
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 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.
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.
LSU finished with a whopping 508 yards of offense, its most in a game since 2007.