BATON ROUGE -- Two of the finest athletes in college football helped the 21st-ranked LSU football team take a 20-point lead over No. 18 North Carolina before the Tigers held off a fierce fourth-quarter rally on Saturday evening in the Georgia Dome to win, 30-24.
LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson dazzled the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff crowd with a school-record 257 return yards (157 punt/100 kickoff), including an 87-yard touchdown as part of 23-0 LSU run in less than six mintes. Speedy wide receiver Russell Shepard scored LSU's first two touchdowns of the season, the second being a 50-yard run on the heels of a Peterson kickoff return to midfield.
With the second-quarter outburst, LSU (1-0) took control of the game, 30-10, at the half.
LSU maintained the lead into the final 11 minutes of the game, when they had a Stevan Ridley 14-yard touchdown run called back by a holding penalty. On the next play, the Tigers were flagged for intentional grounding near midfield and were forced to punt.
Just as fans and the nation-wide audience on ABC began to lose interest, the game got interesting.
Less then a minute after the two penalties and pinned at his own 3-yard line, North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates rolled out of the pocket and connected with wide receiver Jheranie Boyd for a 97-yard touchdown. The Tar Heels cut the deficit to 30-17 and brought the thinning Tar Heels faithful to their feet.
Two more penalties stalled the Tigers ensuinig drive, and LSU was forced to punt after going three-and-out.
Yates then took advantage of short passing routes to drive 67 yards in 4:52 and move the Tar Heels within six points. On third-and-goal from the 14, Peterson came on a corner blitz but couldn't get to Yates before he lofted a perfect pass into the corner of the endzone into the waiting arms of receiver Erik Highsmith.
With 2:32 remaining, North Carolina recovered an onside kick -- though replays indicated the Tar Heels put a block on LSU freshman Alfred Blue in advance of the ball -- and started another drive at their 40-yard line.
On fourth-and-4 at the LSU 42, LSU freshman cornerback Tyrann Mathieu came on a blitz and knocked the ball from Yates hands. The 19-yard sack and fumble was recovered by LSU redshirt freshman defensive end Barkevious Mingo at the North Carolina 39.
The Tigers looked to have the game in hand once again when Ridley gained first-down yardage at the 29-yard line. However, the balled was knocked out of his left hand, bounded forward and was picked up by North Carolina linebacker Quan Sturdivant.
North Carolina had new life again, starting the game's final drive at their 27 with no timeouts and 1:08 to play. Yates again guided the Tar Heels into the LSU redzone but had two pass attempts to Pianalto fall incomplete in the final six seconds. His final attempt slipped through the grasp of tight end Zach Pianalto just inside the goalline.
LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson finished 15-of-21 passing for 151 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He was intercepted in the final seconds of the first half and sacked only once.
Ridley led the Tigers with 81 yards rushing on 19 carries, but fumbled twice in key situations. Shepard added 67 yards with a 50-yard touchdown run on an end-around. Rueben Randle led the Tigers with 71 receiving yards on four catches. Tight end Mitch Joseph added three catches for 41 yards.
As the Tigers worked the clock in the second half, LSU outgained North Carolina on the ground, 162-24.
For North Carolina, Yates finished 28-of-46 passing for 412 yards including catches of 75 and 97 yards by Boyd.
Tar Heels running back Anthony Elzy had 46 yards on 14 carries while Johnny White added 29 yards on eight attempts.
With the two long catches, Boyd finished with 221 yards receiving on six catches with a touchdown.
Peterson electrified the crowd and was nearly unstoppable in the return game, breaking the school record for combined return yards. Shepard scored the game's first touchdown on a 6-yard reception from Jefferson, then gave LSU the lead for good with a 50-yard touchdown run on an end-around the left side.
LSU received a safety when a high snap sailed over Yates' head and through the back of the endzone. The Tigers led 16-0 with 7:14 to play in the half.
Jefferson then faked a handoff to Russell, stepped up in the pocket and connected with receiver Randle in the endzone for a 51-yard touchdown. The PAT gave LSU a 30-10 lead just before the half.
The Tigers were handed a golden opportunity only 20 seconds in the contest, as LSU defensive end Kendrick Adams stripped the ball out of White's hands on the game's second play. LSU safety Brandon Taylor picked up the loose ball at the Tar Heels' 35-yard line.
Ridley ran twice for eight yards to setup third-and-2 at the 27. However, Jefferson's short pass to Shepard was dropped. Jasper's 44-yard field goal attempt slipped just outside the right upright and the game remained scoreless with 13:36 to play in the opening quarter.
On North Carolina's second play of the ensuing drive, Yates fumbled the snap and LSU freshman linebacker Lamin Barrow pulled the ball out of the pile.
The Tigers took over at the Tar Heels 30-yard line and scored the game's first touchdown, a 6-yard pass from Jefferson to Shepard on third-and-goal.
Jasper's point after touchdown gave the Tigers a 7-0 lead with 8:57 left in the opening quarter.
North Carolina took advantage of two personal fouls called against LSU, including a roughing the punter which extended the drive. The Tar Heels tied the game with a 9-yard pass from Yates to fullback Devon Ramsey with 13:49 left in the first half.
After a 42-yard kickoff return by Peterson, LSU advanced into North Carolina territory but the drive stalled at the 39. Jasper's pooch punt barely crept into the endzone for a touchback.
Yates connected with Boyd for 75 yards across the middle to give the Tar Heels a first-and-goal at the LSU 5. However, the Tigers defense stiffened and held North Carolina to a 20-yard Casey Barth field goal. With 8:24 to play in the half, UNC led 10-7.
A Peterson return of 47 yards again put the Tigers at midfield, where Shepard lined up as a running back on Jefferson's right, took a handoff, made one cut up the field and outran the defense to the goalline. The score gave LSU a 14-10 lead and started the 23-0 run in the next six minutes.
North Carolina kickoff returner Hunter Furr fumbled the ensuing kickoff in the endzone but decided to advance the ball. He was stopped at the 4-yard line by Mingo.
On third-and-6 from the 8, a shotgun snap sailed over Yates' head and through the back of the endzone for a safety and a 16-10 Tigers lead.
LSU was unable to take advantage in UNC territory, as running back Richard Murphy fumbled near midfield.
However, after a three-and-out by North Carolina that included a sack by Drake Nevis, Peterson again gave the Tigers life with an 87-yard touchdown return. LSU led 23-10 with 4:01 left in the half.
Before going back to the lockerroom, Peterson wasn't done. He returned a punt 37 yards to the LSU 49-yard line to setup a 51-yard touchdown from Jefferson to Randle on the next play.
LSU outgained North Carolina, 195-150, in the half. Peterson (244) outgained both teams with his return yards.
The first 30 minutes was the most productive half since LSU's most recent visit to the Georgia Dome, a 35-point beatdown of the ACC's Georgia Tech in the 2008 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
A scoreless third quarter seemed to lull the Tigers to sleep on both sides of the ball, as LSU outgained North Carolina, 52-46.
LSU returns to action on Saturday, Sept. 11, when the Tigers travel to Nashville to face Vanderbilt at 6 p.m. CT on ESPNU.