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LSU shreds MSU's defense, pulls away in fourth quarter

 

Matthew Stevens

 

STARKVILLE -- The drama all week and Saturday leading up to kickoff didn't matter. 

 

The buzz surrounding who Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen would pick to play quarterback failed to derail a LSU offense that made sure the Tigers earned their 21st victory in the last 22 games against the Bulldogs. 

 

In a 59-26 loss to No. 10 LSU, the answer of who would be MSU's starting quarterback became an afterthought as MSU (2-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) failed to stop LSU in any way. 

 

The 59 points LSU (5-1, 2-1) scored is the most in the rivalry since 1969, when the Tigers won 61-6 in Baton Rouge, La. The 26-point margin is the largest of each of LSU's five-straight wins against a Mullen-led squad. 

 

After 1,031 yards and 85 points of tempo offense from both sides featured big plays on the ground and in the air, everybody in attendance needed a breather. For two programs that traditionally pride themselves on punishing defenses, Saturday's nationally televised affair was more about broken tackles and missed assignments that led to big touchdown plays. 

 

Of LSU's 123 yards rushing in the first half, 103 came on big touchdown runs by Jeremy Hill and Kenny Hilliard. The Tigers, who struggled to run the football against Georgia in a 44-41 loss last week, rushed for 223 yards and had three players record a rushing touchdown. 

 

"That's the best wide receiver play I've seen in quite some time," Mullen said. "I really don't think it was a matter of us not being in position. They completed passes with guys draped all over them." 

 

The first defensive stop came when LSU starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger overshot a screen pass to the tailback and the football floated into the arms of safety Nickoe Whitley. It was one of the few defensive plays in a game LSU's new-look offense dominated against an undermanned defense. 

 

MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins' mayhem and havoc philosophy was supposed to confuse and to pound quarterbacks like Mettenberger. Neither of those things happened Saturday night as he picked apart the defense, going 25 of 29 for 340 yards and two touchdown passes. He didn't have an incompletion until the middle of the second quarter. 

 

"It wasn't like their was guys wide open all day long," Mullen said. "We were playing man coverage and he just put the ball where we weren't. I can't say it any more clear than that." 

 

Mettenberger found in one-on-one coverage with receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Beckham Jr. and Landry are projected as first- to second-round picks in the NFL draft in April. They combined for 275 receiving yards and two scores. 

 

LSU came into Starkville fourth in the SEC in pass offense, but defensive players said they prepared to stop the Tigers rushing attack and make Mettenberger beat them. 

 

"They kind of shocked us by coming out throwing, which isn't what they normally do," MSU freshman defensive tackle Chris Jones said. "That's not what they're known for, and we worked all week on stopping the run." 

 

Last summer, Mullen promoted Collins to full-time defensive coordinator in the hope of eliminating the soft cushion and to amplify the pressure in the pocket. Despite a high-energy effort that included two sacks by Preston Smith, Mettenberger had time to find wide open receivers after five-step drops. 

 

"I think LSU just took advantage of the small mistakes we made on defense," Smith said. "They turned those mistakes into big plays every time, and that was extremely frustrating." 

 

MSU came into the weekend second in the SEC in total defense and third in passing defense after games against Alcorn State, Auburn, and Troy. MSU's aggressive blitz schemes were more than acceptable against those tempo offenses, but they didn't generate enough pressure against LSU, which typically kept a blocker at the line to deal with the extra blitz defender and relied on Beckham Jr. and Landry to make plays against an inexperienced secondary. 

 

"I don't know what else to say other than their kids made extraordinary plays," Mullen said. "They have a lot of great players tonight and proved it time and time again." 

 

MSU will battle Bowling Green next week for its Homecoming game. It then will have 10 days to prepare for a home game against Kentucky. 

 

"This is why guys come to this school and play at Mississippi State, to play in big games like this (Saturday night)," Mullen said. "Now we've got to teach them how to finish a game like this." 

 

Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.

 

 

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