Mississippi State’s offense was rolling, Rara Thomas was making big plays, and the crowd in Baton Rouge was getting quiet.
Then it was all backwards.
The Bulldogs were the ones getting stuffed. LSU went on the offensive. The Tiger Stadium crowd roared.
MSU had fallen off a statistical cliff after halftime Saturday in its eventual 31-16 loss.
Mississippi State (2-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) put up 99 total yards in the first quarter alone and 85 more in the second quarter.
But the Bulldogs had just 105 total yards in the second half — 61 in the third quarter and 44 in the fourth.
“I think the biggest thing is we just have to stay focused and do our jobs for longer,” coach Mike Leach said. “We’ve got to play harder longer, and we didn’t.”
It wasn’t just the offense. LSU, held to 145 total yards in the first half, had 271 in the second half, including 175 in the fourth quarter alone.
The Tigers had 14 first downs in the second half to the Bulldogs five.
Leach said both teams got fatigued, making for a “little more random” game, but he knows MSU missed opportunities Saturday.
“It was certainly there for us,” he said. “We did things on all three sides of the ball that lost the game, and we did things on all three sides of the ball that could have won it, too.”
MSU fumble prone so far
One of those missed opportunities Saturday was a muffed punt by wide receiver Austin Williams, which LSU recovered at the MSU 9-yard line.
Williams’ fumble was Mississippi State’s fifth through just three games, which is tied for 90th nationally. Only 21 teams have fumbled more times, and five of those have played four contests.
Quarterback Will Rogers lost a fumble against Memphis, but his fumble Saturday at LSU was recovered by left guard Nick Jones. Running back Jo’quavious Marks and wideout Jamire Calvin both lost fumbles Sept. 10 at Arizona.
As far as Williams’ miscue, Leach seemed open to the possibility of putting freshman Zavion Thomas at punt returner more often.
Thomas, used when the Bulldogs had a better chance at a big return, looked the part Saturday with returns of 26 and 22 yards.
“Zavion’s getting better and better,” Leach said. “I think he certainly looked good. This is about as good of a punt return debut as I’ve seen a guy have. I think he’s going to be returning more punts. That role could definitely grow.”
Bulldogs near the bottom in PATs
Besides its fumble statistics, Mississippi State is near the bottom in another area the Bulldogs don’t want to be.
MSU is just 11 of 14 on extra points this season (78.6 percent), which ranks 127th of 131 FBS teams.
Only four other teams have missed more than once; the four schools below MSU in PAT make percentage are all 3 of 4 on the season. East Carolina (12 of 15) is the only school who has also missed three PATs; 104 FBS teams are perfect on the year.
Ben Raybon pulled his first extra point of Saturday’s game wide left, a week after Massimo Biscardi did the same on his first two kicks at Arizona.
Leach proclaimed Saturday he could make an extra point with a couple weeks of practice and said he knew plenty of people who could fill in as well.
Asked Monday if he had thought about going from two, Leach said he had — and he had the same solution for extra points.
“I’ve considered kicking some of them myself,” Leach said.
Where Mississippi State’s PAT kickers are struggling, though, the Bulldogs’ field goal unit has been strong.
MSU is one of 40 teams perfect on field goals this year, and only 16 teams have made more than the Bulldogs’ total of three. Raybon’s 45-yarder Saturday is the Bulldogs’ longest field goal this year.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.