By Brett Martel/The Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. — Zach Mettenberger looked sharp a second straight week, and this time his performance produced a victory for ninth-ranked LSU.
Mettenberger passed for 273 yards and two touchdowns, and LSU kept alive faint hope of a Southeastern Conference title with a 37-17 victory over No. 23 Mississippi State on Saturday night.
One week after passing for a career-high 298 yards in a narrow loss to No. 1 Alabama, Mettenberger completed 19 of 30 passes without an interception against the Bulldogs. His top target was Jarvis Landry, who had nine catches for 109 yards — both career highs — including a 19-yard touchdown to help the Tigers (8-2, 4-2 SEC) beat the Bulldogs (7-3, 3-3) for the 13th straight time.
Mettenberger’s other scoring pass went to Spencer Ware. Fullback J.C. Copeland scored on a 1-yard plunge and safety Craig Loston returned an interception 100 yards for a score.
Tyler Russell completed a career-high 26 passes on 38 attempts for a career-high 295 yards and a touchdown that got the Bulldogs as close as field goal early in the third quarter before they faded in their third straight loss, all against ranked teams.
LSU’s defense shut out Mississippi State during the last 27:52, during which Tigers defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo each sacked Russell and Loston made his interception.
Bulldogs leading rusher LaDarius Perkins was held out of the game. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said Perkins strained his quad on Wednesday but still warmed up in hopes of playing before coaches decided against playing him.
One of the loudest cheers of the night came when Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M was announced during the first quarter — a result that kept LSU alive in the SEC West. LSU’s only hope is to finish in a three-way tie in league play with the Crimson Tide (9-1, 6-1), and Aggies (8-2, 5-2). However, that would require a shocking victory by downtrodden Auburn over Alabama in the Iron Bowl in two weeks.
While the Death Valley crowd was energized by the Bama result, the Tigers’ defense apparently was not.
The Bulldogs’ opening drive went 74 yards on 10 plays, with Russell completing five of six throws before spot substitute QB Dak Prescott found Marcus Green for a 9-yard score to make it 7-0.
LSU responded by driving deep into Bulldogs territory, before coach Les Miles, who had several gambles fail a week earlier against Alabama, elected to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 11.
A second stalled LSU drive inside the Bulldogs 20 led to another field goal and a 7-6 score. Then LSU got its first big break when Derrick Milton mishandled a pitch and Lamin Barrow recovered inside the Bulldogs’ 25. That set up Mettenberger’s scoring strike to Landry over the middle to give LSU its first lead at 13-7.
Devon Bell’s career-long 47-yard field goal pulled the Bulldogs to 13-10 inside the last minute before halftime, but the 48 seconds remaining proved more than enough for Mettenberger to respond. He quickly strung together completions of 15, 36 and 20 yards, the last for a touchdown to Ware, who made a diving catch.
The quick score gave LSU a 20-10 lead and looked like a crushing blow, but Odell Beckham Jr.’s fumbled punt early in the third quarter gave the Bulldogs the ball at the LSU 29 and they promptly cashed in, pulling to 20-17 on Russell’s 14-yard scoring pass to Chad Bumphis.
That was as close as the Bulldogs would get, though, as the Tigers scored the next 17 points on Drew Alleman’s 41-yard field goal and the touchdowns by Copeland and Loston.
Read more in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.