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Originally published September 8, 2012 at 8:13 PM | Page modified September 9, 2012 at 10:35 PM

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Huskies no match for overwhelming Tiger territory

Washington played like a team completely intimidated by its opponent and surroundings, proving how much the Huskies have left to improve.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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BATON ROUGE, La. — In the festive hours before kickoff, this is the most hospitable place on Earth.

At one tailgating spot, LSU fans called over a few purple-clad Washington supporters and treated them to alligator jambalaya and fried catfish.

Under another LSU canopy, a longtime Tiger season-ticket holder mixed margaritas in a gasoline-powered blender. One Washington fan almost felt as if she would be insulting him if she didn't accept his drink.

In the hours before kickoff, as a humid Saturday afternoon slowly turned into a breezy, beautiful Saturday night, the atmosphere on the LSU campus was as collegial and welcoming as a campaign fundraiser.

That atmosphere even carried over to the first minute of the game. LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. fumbled the opening kickoff. Thomas Tutogi recovered, and a minute into the game, after Travis Coons' 36-yard field goal, Washington led 3-0.

That moment should have been frozen like the margarita because almost everything after that was downright inhospitable for the Huskies.

Washington was pummeled by LSU 41-3. And now, two games into the season, the Huskies' offense doesn't look so much like a work in progress as a work that hasn't made progress.

Washington's offense hasn't scored a touchdown in its last 107 ½ minutes. Two games into a new season, a season without running back Chris Polk, receivers Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, or any sort of continuity on the line, Washington's offense has no identity and no rhythm.

"We have to see what fits our personnel," said quarterback Keith Price, who finished the night 17 for 36 with 157 yards. He threw one interception and was sacked three times. "We couldn't even move the ball at first. It was rough. We didn't throw the ball well. We didn't run the ball well. We just got to fix it next week."

Tiger Stadium is nicknamed "Death Valley" for a reason. This is where game plans come to die. Playbooks are shredded. Hearts are broken. Hopes are quickly extinguished.

This vertiginous shrine to college football and its 92,804 fans were supposed to be barometers for Washington. LSU made sure the Huskies understood exactly how much work is ahead of them.

"We're still trying to find our identity on offense," Sarkisian said. "What we're going to be. Who we're going to be on the offensive side of the ball, so that we can find some continuity. Obviously it was tough for us to get that tonight. There are things we have to fix and fix quickly."

Price was hurried all night. Sam Montgomery came at him from one side; Barkevious Mingo came from the other. And because Washington couldn't run the ball (a net total of 26 yards rushing), LSU dared Price to throw, rushing him with no fear of repercussion.

"We were searching a bit again," Sarkisian said. "It felt like we were just trying to find something that could get us going. I think now we have to find out what we can go to, to lean on when things go astray, when we're struggling offensively.

"Who is our bread and butter? What are the types of plays we're going to run to get our rhythm back? We've had a hard time finding that these last two weeks. That's something we have to identify here in the next 24 to 48 hours as a staff and get that conveyed to our players and practice that, so that we can move the ball through adverse times."

This was a disheartening night for Washington, not so much because of the final score, but because, after that first turnover on the opening kickoff, the Huskies weren't competitive. Suddenly this had the early feel of a season in trouble, a 6-6 season when so much more is expected.

The offense is especially troubling. It couldn't sustain drives and kept the young, undersized defense on the field too long. By the fourth quarter, that defense was gassed.

"We just had a hard time on first-and-10 football," Sarkisian said. "It got really difficult for us. We were living in second-and-long. If you live in those second-and-third-and-longs, it's going to be a long game."

This was a game that felt like a long, slow death. A Saturday that had too much Tiger, too little offense and not nearly enough alligator jambalaya.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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