BATON ROUGE, La. — At its essence, football is a game of control. Of one player trying to assert his control of a specific space of the field, and another player trying to deny it.
And Louisiana State's 41-3 victory Saturday over Washington in front of 92,804 at Tiger Stadium was ultimately just that simple.
From start to finish, LSU had control of the line of scrimmage, and that gave it complete control of the game despite what was sometimes a sloppy effort by the Tigers.
"Their athleticism and speed showed up," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said of an LSU team coming off an appearance in the national title game last season and ranked No. 3 in each major poll.
And that speed and athleticism overwhelmed the Huskies while also providing vivid proof that UW still has a ways to go before being able to match up with elite teams.
The most illustrative statistic of the difference in the two teams was the final rushing totals — LSU had 242 yards on 52 carries while Washington managed just 26 on 24.
"We knew they were going to run the ball and we had to stop that," said UW cornerback Desmond Trufant. "It comes back to tackling, communication and back to the basics, pretty much."
UW's inability to run, meanwhile, pretty much muffled an offense that now has gone seven quarters without a touchdown.
"We didn't throw the ball well and we didn't run the ball well," said UW quarterback Keith Price.
Indeed, with no running game to keep the pressure off, Price was mostly running for his life much of the night, or forced to get rid of the ball quickly for completions the Tigers were able to keep to short gains. UW did not have a gain longer than 22 yards.
"We were searching again tonight," Sarkisian said. "Felt like we were trying to find something to get us going."
Sarkisian thought that something might have come on the first play, when LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. decided to return a deep kickoff and then fumbled the ball away at the 20, with Thomas Tutogi recovering for UW.
But foreshadowing the offensive struggles to come, UW could get just 4 yards on three plays — all passes, two of which were incomplete, one dropped — and was forced to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Travis Coons.
After being stopped on its first drive, LSU then got its running game going and used a short punt to set up its first touchdown, a 21-yard run by Alfred Blue, to take the lead for good at 7-3 with 11:18 left in the first quarter.
LSU scored later in the quarter to take a 14-3 lead, and the game was never really in doubt again.
"We had a couple of opportunities early in the game that maybe could have changed the complexion of it," Sarkisian said. "It was great getting the turnover right off the kickoff , we just couldn't quite execute (to turn it into a touchdown)."
Sarkisian had pulled out all the stops during the week to prepare the Huskies for an environment regarded as being among the most intimidating in college football, including having a tiger brought to practice on Tuesday to replicate the presence of LSU's live mascot outside the opposing locker room on game day.
Instead, the decisive defeat raised questions about just how ready the Huskies are to fulfill Sarkisian's theme for the season to "Take the Next Step."
"It wasn't about want-to," Sarkisian said. "I think they all wanted to play well and came in with the right attitude."
The Huskies had only five first downs in the first half, two of which came via LSU penalties. LSU had a 231-70 edge in yards in the first half, and a 102 to minus-11 edge in rushing at the half.
Price, appearing to miss the security blanket of departed receivers Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, was 17-for-36 passing for 157 yards and an interception as the Huskies never got past LSU's 30 other than on the fumbled kickoff. Just three of UW's 11 possessions got into LSU territory, and only three went longer than 19 yards.
The defense, meanwhile, broke down under the heavy weight of Louisiana State's heavyweights up front, allowing scores on six consecutive drives spanning the second to fourth quarters (other than when LSU took a knee to end the first half).
LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo left the field unimpressed by the Huskies, saying, "Honestly, we thought this would be a much more physical game. I guess we overprepared, or at least we prepared more than they did."
Sarkisian, though, said his hope for the season is not dimmed, saying, "At the end of it all, this is one of 13 games" — a 13th game being a postseason game because UW has just 12 scheduled games this year.
And players echoed that theme, saying their confidence was not shaken.
"It hurts obviously to lose, but we are moving on to the next game," said Trufant. "We've still got a lot of games left to play. This game doesn't define who we are going to be."