Photo: Last week’s game vs. Jacksonville State by Sean Gasser
It wasn’t as decisive as it looked like it would be at halftime.
But the LSU football team is officially 1-0 in Southeastern Conference play nonetheless.
LSU beat Mississippi State 23-20 on Saturday night — the first win of the Danny Etling era as the Tigers’ starting quarterback.
Etling was 19-of-30 in the win with 215 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t turn over the ball in the game.
The Tigers led 23-3 at halftime, but nearly faltered, being outscored 17-0 in the final half. Mississippi State had a late drive with a chance to tie or win the game, but the rally ended when LSU’s defense stiffened and forced the Bulldogs to turnover the ball on downs.
LSU coach Les Miles said the ending wasn’t pretty, but all that matters is being 1-0 in the SEC.
The Tigers will continue their SEC journey next weekend when they travel to take on Auburn.
“If we don’t turn the ball over, the game is over (late),” Miles said. “If we get the first down, we run the clock out and we finish the game like it’s supposed to be finished. But we didn’t, and they’re dangerous. They came back … and what we’re thinking is that we’re glad we finished it the way that we did.”
For LSU, the beginning of the Etling Era was pretty smooth – at least for the first three and a half quarters.
The new LSU starting quarterback was poised throughout the game, routinely making accurate throws to help the Tigers’ offense stay on the field throughout the game.
One of the most accurate throws Etling made came early – a 37-yard strike to D.J. Chark which put LSU up 7-0 early in the game.
After the teams traded punts, the Tigers’ offense moved into the end zone again – a seven play, 48-yard drive capped by a 5-yard run from returning halfback Leonard Fournette, who ended the game with 147 yards and two scores.
“We prepared well, and we were comfortable as an offense throughout the game,” Etling said. “I thought the line did a good job, and we just tried to take advantage of the things the defense gave us throughout the game.”
In the second quarter, LSU extended its lead on another Fournette touchdown and a short field goal from Colby Delahoussaye – points that allowed the Tigers to take a 23-3 lead into halftime.
But then the wheels fell off the wagon a little bit in the second half.
Two of the Tigers’ prosperous drives ended in Fournette fumbles – including one which had pushed inside Mississippi State’s 35-yard-line in the fourth quarter and could have allowed the Tigers to salt away the clock and end the game.
But with the extra possessions, Mississippi State didn’t go away. They kicked a third-quarter field goal to trim the LSU lead to 23-6.
They then took advantage of the Fournette fumble and went down the field for a touchdown – a 1-yard run from backup quarterback Damian Williams which cut LSU’s lead to 23-13 with 4 minutes to play.
The Bulldogs then converted an onside kick, which led to another score – a 7-yard pass from Williams to Fred Ross, which made the game 23-20 with 3:30 to go.
But after the LSU offense failed to salt away the clock, the Tigers’ defense put the game away for good.
After a booming punt from Josh Growden, Mississippi State took over the ball at their own 20-yard-line.
Just four plays later, the game was all-but over as the LSU defense stiffened and forced a turnover on downs.
Miles said the LSU defense shined throughout the game, and it’s hard for many to disagree. The Tigers limited the Bulldogs to just 270 total yards offensively, and 1-of-14 on third down conversions.
The LSU coach said the showing was probably LSU’s best of the season – minus the snafus in the final minutes.
But in the SEC, a win is a win, and the Tigers live to play another day.
“We didn’t finish how we would have liked to,” Miles said. “But I liked us in all three phases. I liked our execution.”
“Tip your cap to LSU,” Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said. “They disrupted us, and we just got things rolling too late in the game.”