STARKVILLE — Mississippi State defensive coordinator Chris Wilson entered Thursday night with a mission to make LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee win the football game.
The Tigers” senior quarterback did just that in a 19-6 victory, connecting on 21 of 27 passes for 213 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that sealed the win.
Lee, who was in competition for the backup job in the spring and in preseason camp until projected starter Jordan Jefferson was arrested outside a LSU campus bar in Baton Rouge, La., took advantage of soft coverage to complete short, quick passes underneath the secondary all evening.
“I”m just trying to be smart,” Lee said. “I”m trying to keep the ball and help us win.”
With MSU cornerbacks Corey Broomfield and Johnthan Banks playing nearly 10 yards off the line of the scrimmage, Lee capitalized by completing crossing routes and bubble screens for positive yardage without being hassled by an ineffective pass rush.
“When you deal with the speed they have, we played some zone early and they were able to make plays,” Wilson said. “We were unable to make that game-changing play.”
Lee”s quick decisions didn”t allow for any member of MSU”s defensive front to get up the field to disrupt the pocket. Of the four negative created by MSU defense, redshirt freshman defensive end Kaleb Eulls was in on three of them.
“He did a real good job of throwing the ball quick with those hot passes,” senior defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “It”s frustrating as a member of the ”D” line to not get any pressure on the quarterback.”
Without the threat of a pass rush from MSU”s front seven, Lee was satisfied using a three-step drop and hitting his primary target on a short timing route. At one point in the third quarter, Lee was 16 of 19 and had jumped into second all-time in LSU history with 124 consecutive attempts without an interception.
“He”s just improving every week,” LSU offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa said. “His footwork is better. He”s done everything we”ve asked. He”s not throwing interceptions. He”s not missing many receivers. He”s just been on.”
Studrawa was on the same staff with MSU coach Dan Mullen at Bowling Green under then-head coach Urban Meyer. Studrawa, who has been given the play-calling duties after Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson”s disease, is now running a more traditional pro-style offense with the quarterback under center nearly the entire game.
On the other side, LSU hounded MSU quarterback Chris Relf into four sacks, a pair of interceptions, and a forced fumble.
“Being a young guy like I am, the defenses I saw in high school weren”t ever that fast,” MSU redshirt freshman offensive tackle Blaine Clausell said. “It”s just something we”re going to have to adjust to
After giving up 6.5 yards per carry against Auburn University in a 41-34 loss on Saturday, Wilson emphasized MSU wanted to load the line of scrimmage to force LSU to throw the football.
“Anytime you”re up against a team that explosive you have to make the decision on how you want to play them,” Wilson said. “We stuck to our plan to be better in our run game.”
MSU, which entered the game 11th in the Southeastern Conference in rush defense, held LSU to 46 rushing yards in the first half. Right before the halftime, Lee directed the Tigers into field goal range by completing 5 of 6 passes for 61 yards to give LSU a 6-3 lead after 30 minutes.
For a quarterback who was booed for inconsistent play last year at his home stadium, Lee has completed almost 68 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and one interception.
“It”s clicking,” Lee said. “The offensive line is blocking well. Everything”s working. We”ve just got to make sure we keep it going.”
Lee, whose father was his high school football coach in Brenham, Texas, showed the poise of a veteran while finding his favorite target: receiver Rueben Randle (six catches, 98 yards, touchdown).
LSU capped a beautifully executed 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter with a fade pass over the top of double coverage to Randle in the right corner of the end zone to make it 16-6 and to silence the rowdy Davis Wade Stadium crowd.
“Their guys made plays, our guys didn”t,” Mullen said. “That was the bottom line. I thought our guys played physical, (but) we needed to make a play defensively.”