Just when it looked like 20th-ranked TCU was poised to make a comeback in its season opener against No. 12 LSU, Odell Beckham Jr. gave the Tigers a huge return.
The Horned Frogs had just made it a three-point game midway through the fourth quarter when they let Beckham get loose for a 75-yard kickoff return that set up a decisive touchdown as LSU held on for a 37-27 victory late Saturday night.
"We can cut it down to where it was manageable at a three-point game, and then you give up the big kickoff," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "You can't do those kind of things."
Down 30-14 in the fourth, TCU had started in Tigers territory after a shanked 28-yard punt and three-and-out LSU. But the Horned Frogs' drive was hampered when Trevone Boykin was sacked and fumbled. They recovered the ball, but had to settle for Jaden Oberkrom's 39-yard field goal to get within 30-27 with 7½ minutes left. Then came Beckham's big kickoff return.
"We were the team getting stronger in the fourth quarter," Patterson said.
Before that, Alfred Blue's fumble set TCU up at the 6. Waymon James' 5-yard TD run made it 30-24 with 13 minutes left.
All in all, despite a crucial fumble and a three-and-out in the fourth quarter that kept the game uncomfortably close, the Tigers' first game with new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron calling the plays provided a promising start to the season.
"When you open on the road, very quality opponent, you put 448 yards on them," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I felt like Cam Cameron started his debut at LSU, and did a very, very strong job. ... We were much better on offense."
Terrence Magee ran for two second-half touchdowns while second-year starter Zach Mettenberger threw for 251 yards with a key late score, a 20-yard TD to Jarvis Landry with 6 minutes left after Beckham's big return.
And a replenished LSU defense that lost a team-record eight players to the NFL draft came up with some key plays.
"They looked like an LSU defense to me," Miles aid. "They flew around."
B.J. Catalon returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown and scored on a 26-yard run for TCU, the two-time BCS buster now in its second Big 12 season. But the Frogs had only 259 total yards.
Magee ran 52 yards for a touchdown less than 2 minutes into the second half put LSU up 23-10, three plays after an interception by Jalen Mills. Magee added a 3-yard score later in the third quarter.
Colby Delahoussaye kicked three field goals for LSU, two in the first 6 ½ minutes even before TCU took its first offensive snap with Casey Pachall getting the start over Boykin at quarterback.
When TCU finally got on offense, both Pachall and Boykin were on the field.
Pachall, who came in with a 15-2 career record as the starter, was the quarterback in his return after leaving the team for treatment in a substance abuse program four games into last season after a DUI arrest. Boykin lined up as a receiver the first two plays, but played much of the second half at quarterback, taking over after Pachall was picked off by Mills.
Pachall, who Patterson said would be the starter for next week's home opener against Southeastern Louisiana, was 9-of-16 passing for 75 yards. Boykin was 6 of 12 for 70 yards.
"We had to get an extra running back in the backfield. It was simple. So we tried to go change of pace, and I thought it worked," Patterson said. "There are going to be games where we're going to play one, then going to play the other. I thought Casey was playing fine."
Landry finished with eight catches for 109 yards, while Beckham had five catches for 118 yards. It was the first time since 2001 the Tigers had two 100-yard receivers in the same game. Mettenberger, the second-year starter, completed 16 of 32 passes.
LSU was up 13-3 when 270-pound fullback J.C. Copeland plunged in from a yard out early in the second quarter.
But Catalon returned the ensuing kickoff for a TD, with only one LSU player even getting a hand on the speedy running back. That tied for the second-longest return in TCU history, behind only a 105-yarder against Texas in 1933.
"What a great ballgame," Patterson said. "A lot of good athletes on the field, both sides of the ball for both teams."
While Miles had been deliberately vague to keep TCU guessing on Jeremy Hill's status following his offseason arrest for throwing a punch outside a bar, the running back didn't play.
TCU was without reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year Devonte Fields, who was also in uniform without playing. He's serving a two-game suspension for an unspecified violation of university and team policy during the offseason.
Patterson said there was no doubt the Frogs missed Fields, but added "if you asked me if I would do it over and let him play, the answer is no."