STARKVILLE — Trey Palmer turned around at the 11-yard line to bring the football in, showing the “33” in purple on his chest to the beaten defenders behind him.
No Mississippi State player stood within 15 yards of the LSU wide receiver as Palmer spun back around at the 5 and took the final steps across the goal line, 11 men in maroon and white merely spectators.
The sophomore had hauled in a 58-yard touchdown pass from Max Johnson, putting the Tigers on top 21-3 in the third quarter on a play that seemed simply effortless.
For Mississippi State on Saturday, it was never that easy.
The Bulldogs (2-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) moved the ball relatively well against LSU (3-1, 1-0) but missed out on scoring chance after scoring chance in a 28-25 loss in the SEC opener for both teams at Davis Wade Stadium.
“We marched up and down the field the whole day,” Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said. “We’ve just got to rein this whole thing in and get in a position where we finish drives.”
Time and time again, it happened. A fumble at the LSU 30. An interception at the 25. A field goal inside the 5. A missed kick from just 33 yards out.
It was too much for Mississippi State to overcome.
The Bulldogs fell behind less than six minutes when Johnson found Kayshon Boutte for an 11-yard score and never caught up. They got close, though: Nolan McCord knocked through a 23-yard field goal in the second quarter after a run play from the 2-yard line was stuffed for a loss, and quarterback Will Rogers threw three touchdown passes in the second half.
But it was too little, too late as big plays given up by the Bulldogs’ defense cost MSU throughout. Boutte took a short pass 64 yards to the house to add to LSU’s lead, Palmer’s 58-yard score put the Tigers up 18 points, and Kole Taylor’s 41-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter sealed the contest.
Mississippi State still held LSU to 343 total yards and limited the Tigers to 63 yards on 27 rushes, a promising sign for Zach Arnett’s defense. But linebacker Jett Johnson said there are still things to improve.
“We always want to pitch a shutout,” Johnson said. “That’s very hard to do in today’s game, but our goal is no points given up. If they can’t score, they can’t win.”
The last big play against the Bulldogs came after Mississippi State appeared to get off the field and receive a punt down 11 points. But Rodney Groce Jr. was called for a penalty on LSU’s punt, giving the Tigers an automatic first down.
They scored three plays later, and to add injury to insult, cornerback Emmanuel Forbes was injured on a collision with teammate Fred Peters. Forbes was eventually carted off the field and did not return.
With his departure, Mississippi State lost the man who made the biggest defensive play of the game of the Bulldogs. Forbes picked off a pass from Johnson in the second quarter to stop an LSU drive.
But once again, Mississippi State failed to score. The Bulldogs got one first down before a 2-yard pass and two straight incompletions forced a punt, another example of an inconsistent offensive performance.
“We’re explosive, but we’ve got to be a team that will know good things will happen,” Leach said. “Right now, we hope good things will happen.”
Good things did happen for the Bulldogs in the second half, when Rogers found Makai Polk for a 29-yard passing score in the third. The sophomore hit Austin Williams for a 2-yard touchdown in the fourth and connected with Woody Marks on a 16-yard score with 1:53 to play.
Rogers finished 47 of 62 passing for 371 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He underthrew his receiver late in the first quarter and was picked off by LSU’s Cordale Flott at the Tigers’ 11-yard line.
“I think he’s getting better,” Leach said of the Brandon High School product. “I don’t think he’s as polished as we’d like.”
But Rogers picked things up in the second half, and Williams pointed to the Bulldogs’ ability to move the ball for most of the game as a sign of progress. The redshirt senior receiver said that seemed much more difficult last season, Leach’s first year at the helm.
“Our potential is definitely there,” Williams said. “When we’re rolling, we’re rolling. We can see that.”
None of those late scores, though, could change the outcome. After a two-point conversion to get within three points, Mississippi State was called for illegal touching on an onside kick, and a challenge by Leach that an LSU player had made contact with the ball first was unsuccessful.
That cost the Bulldogs their final timeout, and LSU went into victory formation to leave Starkville with a win.
The Bulldogs will travel to College Station, Texas, next week to face No. 7 Texas A&M. Game time will either be at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. as Mississippi State hopes to find the confidence and consistency it has lacked the past two weeks.
“We have another opportunity next Saturday against a very good team,” Johnson said.
LSU 28, Mississippi State 25
LSU (3-1) 7 0 14 7 — 28
Mississippi State (2-2) 0 3 7 15 — 25
LSU — Kayshon Boutte 11 pass from Max Johnson (Cade York kick), 9:04
MSU — Nolan McCord 23 FG, 8:19
LSU — Boutte 64 pass from Johnson (York kick), 14:22
LSU — Trey Palmer 58 pass from Johnson (York kick), 3:35
MSU — Makai Polk 29 pass from Will Rogers (McCord kick), 0:26
LSU — Kole Taylor 41 pass from Johnson (York kick), 11:32
MSU — Austin Williams 2 pass from Rogers (McCord kick), 6:48
MSU — Woody Marks 16 pass from Rogers (Malik Heath pass from Rogers), 1:53
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.