BATON ROUGE, La. — Two plays.
For a fleeting moment, Mississippi State University was starting to produce that unique feeling that an upset was brewing in the cool night air of Tiger Stadium.
Two plays ended that notion quick, fast and in a hurry.
A pair of plays that turned the momentum toward the home team and transformed the silent 92,831 in the Tiger Stadium stands to the raucous environment that it advertises itself as.
It was a two plays that essentially became the difference in why the home team was a consistent Top 10 perennial power and the one was a team that is still trying to find a victory against a respectable Southeastern Conference opponent.
Two plays became the winning margin of No. 9 Louisiana State University’s 37-17 victory Saturday night and increase the streak to 13 consecutive games over MSU and 11 in row in Baton Rouge dating back to 1992. During LSU’s more than impressive streak against the Bulldogs, the Tigers (8-2, 4-2 in SEC) have outscored them, 489-161.
“There are little errors that you can see along the way and little mistakes we have to get corrected to continue to move forward and then put ourselves in the position to win those games,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “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.”
A fumble inside their own territory and a pop-up kickoff was easily turned into two touchdowns giving much-needed confidence to an LSU offense that was trotting field goal kicker Drew Alleman on the field way too often for its coaching staff’s liking.
While ahead 7-6 in the second quarter, No. 22 MSU (7-3, 3-3 in SEC play) was trying a toss play away from their sidelines for the first action for redshirt freshman Derrick Milton. After he fumbled the pitch and LSU recovered the ball 14 yards behind the mishap, Milton wouldn’t get another opportunity Saturday evening.
“In big ball games like this it doesn’t matter what you say or do, everything is magnified,” MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. “Every little thing becomes a really, really big thing. You have to execute at a high level.”
More importantly for MSU’s upset chances, the Tigers would respond three plays later to take its first and last lead of the game on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Zach Mettenberger to Jarvis Landry.
Unlike its effort in the home debacle against Texas A&M University, MSU didn’t mentally get lost as they drove down the field to achieve a 47-yard field goal by Devon Bell to make it a 13-10 deficit. The career long kick in the swirling wind gave the freshman kicker confidence but also his team momentum knowing they would get the ball first in the second half.
Then Mullen, also the special teams coach at MSU, ordered a pop-up kick that was fair caught by LSU with 35 seconds left in the half. The field position allowed LSU to try a last ditch drive and the Tigers were able to 71 yards in just four plays culminating in a 20-yard touchdown strike from Mettenberger to tailback Spencer Ware on a wheel route.
Two blown coverages and Mettenberger found wide open LSU receivers with perfect strikes from the pocket to confuse the MSU secondary.
“There’s nothing more to explain on that but two busted coverages,” MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “You come into an environment like this and you have to be exact. 14 points can’t be more critical in a game like this against an team of that caliber.”
After the LSU score putting them up 20-10 at the halftime buzzer, MSU senior cornerback Johnthan Banks was seen by the ESPN cameras screaming at his teammates in frustration knowing those points would be crucial by the end of the game.
“Just straight up too many mistakes tonight by everybody,” Banks said. “Those kill you and you can’t make those mistakes and win — period.”
LSU has won 19 straight and 29 of 30 when scoring over 20 points in a game. Miles, who celebrated his 59th birthday Saturday with a win, is now 49-0 at LSU when the Tigers go over the century mark but hold their opponent to under 100 yards on defense.
“I just think Mississippi State under Dan Mullen is a much better football team than they have been,” Miles said. “The question was whether this (LSU) football team would come to play after an emotional game a week ago. There is not any question that they did.”
Mettenberger completed his first back to back 200-yard passing games this season with 273 yards and the pair of touchdown passes off MSU miscues. The Tigers junior quarterback built off his confidence last week against the University of Alabama to shred MSU defenders for a 19-for-30 passing completions statistic and had a clean pocket with just one sack that occurred early in the first quarter.
“You’re seeing coaches have more confidence in us as a offense,” Mettenberger said. “Guys are making plays and more importantly having fun out there. What else could you ask for but have fun?”
With all the talk after two straight losses about slow starts for MSU, the Bulldogs held a lead after one quarter in Tiger Stadium for the first time since 1994. It wasn’t critical how Mullen’s squad started but on Saturday night it became evident the finish of the first half is what caused MSU’s first three-game losing streak since Mullen took the head coach job in Starkville in 2009.
MSU will try to avoid its first four-game losing streak since 2005 when they host Arkansas (4-6, 2-4 in SEC) on Senior Day at Davis Wade Stadium next Saturday (11:21 a.m., SEC Network).
“I thought we had a good week of practice and we improved but not enough to win football games,” Mullen said. “Good football teams continually improve and are better in November then when they started in September. If we want to finish this good-to-great season off, we need to come with a higher level of performance next week.”