STARKVILLE, Miss. — The LSU defense is far from fixed, but the Tigers can afford a little patience if the offense keeps this up.
Zach Mettenberger passed for more than 300 yards for the second consecutive week, Odell Beckham exceeded 100 receiving yards and caught both of Mettenberger’s touchdown passes, Jeremy Hill ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns and Kenny Hilliard added three more touchdowns as No. 10 LSU ran away from Mississippi State in the fourth quarter Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium.
The Tigers’ 59-26 triumph was their 14th in a row against the Bulldogs and their 21st in the past 22 games in the series. LSU improved to 11-1 in Starkville since 1988 and to 21-1 in the weeks following a loss during coach Les Miles’ nine seasons.
LSU, which lost at Georgia 44-41 a week earlier, is 5-1 and 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers play Florida next Saturday in Tiger Stadium. The Bulldogs fell to 2-3 and 0-2.
The points were the most by LSU in an SEC game since a 63-28 victory at Kentucky in 1997, and the Tigers amassed 563 yards, including 223 rushing yards after having just 77 against Georgia.
“We continue to throw the football efficiently and for big plays,” Miles said. “It becomes very difficult for defenses to have extra guys hanging around the line of scrimmage. They back them up, and we can run the football.”
Though the defense had a rocky first half, it played much better in the second half and contributed to the blowout.
The Tigers, who didn’t have a sack or pressure Georgia’s Aaron Murray, had three sacks against State; Anthony Johnson, Lamin Barrow and Christian LaCouture had one each.
“We will certainly build on this,” Miles said. “I think the defense will improve. We only allowed three points in the back half of the game and outscored them 31-3. I think defensively we were much improved. Some of our young guys stepped up. We weren’t perfect in any way, but we are a young team that’s coming.”
Mettenberger reached the halfway point of his senior season on pace to write his name in some prominent areas of the school record book. He completed 25 of 29 passes for 340 yards — 32 fewer than his career-most last week.
His 86.2 percent completion rate was the fourth-highest in school history, and his 25 completions were a career-high.
Beckham finished with 179 yards — his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season — on a career-high nine receptions and scored on passes of 14 and 33 yards. Hill finished with 157 yards on 16 carries and scored on runs of 69 and 5 yards. Hilliard ran just six times for 39 yards, but scored from 3, 34 and 4 yards for a career high in touchdowns.
“They made a lot of big plays,” State coach Dan Mullen said. “They have a lot of talented players, and it showed. Their quarterback is really good, and their receivers are really good.
“We didn’t want to let them run the ball, so there were a lot of one-on-one matchups. We had guys in position, but give (the Tigers) credit. They made some spectacular plays.”
LSU entered the final 15 minutes with a mere 31-26 edge after a third quarter in which both offenses managed just a field goal. That changed quickly as Mettenberger threw a 33-yard touchdown to Beckham on the first play of the quarter and Tre’Davious White’s interception moments later set up Hill’s 5-yard touchdown run with 14:19 left.
Alfred Blue’s 17-yard run and Hilliard’s 4-yard run finished the 28-point fourth quarter, the Tigers’ highest-scoring final period in five years.
“Score for score,” LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said, “I believe our offense is one of the best, if not the best in the country.”
The Bulldogs ran for 216 yards and passed for 252 for a total of 468 but didn’t reach the end zone after the middle of the second quarter.
“We put up some yards,” Mullen said, “but we didn’t put up enough points.”
At times it appeared all of LSU’s eye-popping numbers might not be enough, but the defense settled in during the second half, allowing just a field goal and creating two turnovers as the offense piled on the points.
The game started much like the one a week earlier — with the Tigers scoring regularly but getting scored upon just as quickly. Though the running game started slowly, Mettenberger and Beckham led the way to a touchdown on the game’s opening possession as Hilliard ran into the end zone from 3 yards.
State needed just three plays to match that as Dak Prescott ran 28 yards for a touchdown.
Hill broke free for a career-long 69-yard touchdown run and after Devon Bell’s 35-yard field goal for the Bulldogs, Hilliard sprinted 34 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. That gave the Tigers a 21-9 lead.
State took the lead when Tyler Russell, playing for the first time since suffering a concussion in the season opener, threw touchdown passes of 20 yards to Jameon Lewis and 59 yards to De’Runnya Wilson.
Mettenberger took LSU down the field in the two-minute offense, tossing a 14-yard touchdown to Beckham with 17 seconds left in the half to give the Tigers a 28-23 halftime lead.
Bell’s 22-yard field goal and Colby Delahoussaye’s 29-yarder for LSU left State within striking distance at the end of the third quarter, but not for long.
“We wore down,” Mullen said. “We battled and battled for three quarters, and then they got some momentum and we didn’t finish.”