LSU handles Mississippi State, 31-17

If LSU had a hangover from its heartbreaking loss to No. 1 Alabama a week earlier, it sure didn’t last long.

The ninth-ranked Tigers allowed No. 22 Mississippi State to take an early 7-0 lead but passed the Bulldogs in the second quarter and never looked back during a 37-17 victory Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.

Zach Mettenberger and Jarvis Landry led a suddenly vibrant passing game for the second consecutive week, LSU took advantage of a State fumble to grab the lead and the defense kept the Bulldogs at bay.

The Tigers (8-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference), play their home finale against Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs, losing their third consecutive game, are 7-3 and 3-3.

LSU, which was celebrating Homecoming, beat State for the 13th consecutive season and 20th time in the past 21 meetings.

“The question was whether this football team would come to play after playing an emotional game a week ago,” Tigers coach Les Miles said. “There is not any question that they were. There is a fundamental feeling in this stadium and in our football building that we are just catching speed. We are just getting the pace that we need. We are not going to sacrifice our improvement based on the fact that we played a tough game.”

Mettenberger, who set season highs in attempts (35), completions (28) and yards (298) in the 21-17 loss to Alabama a week earlier, had statistics nearly as good. He completed 19 of 30 for 273 yards and two touchdowns.

Landry surpassed the career-high eight catches he had tied against the Tide and grabbed nine passes for a career-high 109 yards and a touchdown.

“(The offense) is very confident,” Landry said. “A lot of guys on offense feel like we got that swag back. That’s something we really want to embrace, let it carry over from the Alabama game and show the world that we can be an efficient and effective offense.”

LSU’s defense had two takeaways — giving it 11 in the past four games — and the Tigers scored 14 points off of them.

“When you’re going to play a team that’s in the top 10, you cannot make those mistakes on the road and expect to win football games,” State coach Dan Mullen said. “Some of the mistakes were critical errors tonight. Those type of things don’t get it done.”

A mix-up by LSU’s punt return team gave State a boost early in the third quarter. Jalen Collins bumped into Odell Beckham Jr. as Beckham was trying to field a bouncing ball, which came loose. Dee Arrington recovered for the Bulldogs at the Tigers’ 29-yard line.

On the next play, Chad Bumphis got behind Craig Loston and caught a touchdown pass from Tyler Russell, pulling State within 20-17.

Mettenberger drove the Tigers to the Bulldogs’ 24 and on third down put the ball in Kadron Boone’s hands in the end zone, but cornerback Darius Slay separated Boone from the ball. Drew Alleman’s 41-yard field goal increased the lead to 23-17.

On the Tigers’ next possession, Mettenberger threw completions of 22 yards and 8 yards to Beckham, 9 to Landry and 27 to Michael Ford. That led to J.C. Copeland’s 1-yard touchdown and a 30-17 lead entering the fourth quarter.

State drove to the LSU 15, trying to get within one score midway through the third quarter, but Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo sacked Russell on third and fourth down to end the threat.

The Bulldogs had another late scoring opportunity when they drove to the LSU 4, but Loston intercepted Russell at the goal line and ran 100 yards for a touchdown.

That tied the school record for the longest interception return, matching Greg Jackson’s against State in 1988 in Starkville and White Graves’ against Kentucky in 1964.

It was just Russell’s fourth interception in 301 passes this season. Russell had a career-high 26 completions (in 38 attempts) for a career-high 295 yards. He had one touchdown pass, which was his school-record 17th this season.

“The defense needs to play better pass coverage,” Miles said. “There were some mistakes made by some young guys. We’re going to have to spend some time on that.“

LSU quickly demonstrated that its season-best passing performance against Bama wasn’t a one-time deal. The Tigers passed on their first two plays and attempted five throws — one attempt ended with a sack — on their first possession. Though the possession ended with a punt, it showed the coaches maintained confidence in the passing game, and Mettenberger and Landry justified it.

After State drove 74 yards to a touchdown and a 7-0 lead after its first possession, the Tigers temporarily turned to the running game. Ten rushes accounted for 42 of the 48 yards on a drive that yielded a 28-yard field goal by Alleman.

Mettenberger completed 4 of 7 for 48 yards on the next drive, and Alleman kicked a 26-yard field goal to get LSU within a point.

The Bulldogs gave the Tigers an opportunity when Derrick Milton fumbled and linebacker Lamin Barrow recovered and advanced the ball to the State 21. Two plays later, Mettenberger zipped a 19-yard touchdown to pass to Landry.

State drove to a 47-yard field goal by Devon Bell, which cut LSU’s lead to 13-10 with 48 seconds left in the half.

The Tigers weren’t satisfied with that and turned Mettenberger loose.

He connected with Landry for 15 yards, then found James Wright for 36 after a State breakdown in the secondary. After an incompletion in the end zone, Mettenberger connected with running back Spencer Ware, who made a diving catch for a 20-yard touchdown that gave LSU a 20-10 halftime lead.

By that time, it was clear LSU was back on track.

“They did some things we didn’t necessarily practice for,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “Once we got it adjusted, we started stopping them.

“It’s LSU. We win. We felt like we had to come back and get back to what we do.”