STARKVILLE – It’s been assumed that Mississippi State has a lot of ground to cover before it becomes a winner. In front of an ear-splitting crowd of 53,612 at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday, it was mere inches that separated the Bulldogs from a landmark victory.
Trailing 30-24, and with most of the 53,612 fans trying to yell some good fortune into existence, MSU was stopped shy of the goal line four times, and No. 7 LSU escaped with a 30-26 victory.
After a pair of Anthony Dixon runs got State within six inches of the goal line, quarterback Tyson Lee couldn’t punch it in. The 5-foot-10 senior’s jump pass to a wide-open Marcus Green was batted away by Chad Jones, and his option keeper on fourth down left him stuck in the mud with 1 minute, 8 seconds left in the game.
“It’s a game of inches, and I wasn’t able to get the six inches that we needed, unfortunately,” said Lee, who called this the “toughest loss” of his career.
Besides the goal line stand, LSU (4-0, 2-0 SEC) won by winning the turnover battle 4-0; getting a career day from sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson; and coming up big on special teams in the second half.
And the Tigers won despite being outgained in total yardage, 374-263; rushing for only 30 yards on 31 carries; and converting only 2 of 13 times on third down, compared to 8 of 19 by State.
MSU won in plenty of other statistical categories, but that was of no solace to first-year coach Dan Mullen.
“There’s nothing good in losing. There never will be,” he said with a trembling voice. “It’s a sick feeling for me, it’s a sick feeling for our team. There’s nothing positive about it.”
There are positives to take from this one, though. Like fighting back despite the turnovers – all in the first half, three of them Lee interceptions – and despite falling behind 30-21 after LSU’s Jones took a punt 93 yards for a touchdown to open the fourth quarter.
MSU (2-2, 1-2) answered that gut punch with a nine-play, 68-yard drive. Lee’s platoon partner, Chris Relf, completed a 46-yard pass to O’Neal Wilder on a third-and-4, and Sean Brauchle’s 22-yard field goal made it 30-24 with 10:13 to go.
MSU’s defense – which just two weeks earlier had given up 589 yards to Auburn – then held firm on two LSU drives.
When MSU took over with 3:53 on the clock, it was 50 yards from paydirt and a monumental upset.
Dixon, who finished with 106 yards rushing, and Christian Ducré combined for 43 yards on the drive. Dixon’s 18-yard jaunt set up the Bulldogs at the LSU 2-yard line with 1:22 left.
“I thought we were going to win the game at that point,” MSU linebacker Jamar Chaney said.
Dixon nearly made it in on second down, and then the game was put in Lee’s hands. On the fourth-down play, he had the option to pitch to Dixon but thought he saw a gap. It quickly closed, with linebacker Kelvin Sheppard leading the LSU push and Jones finishing it off.
“I think it was a poor read on my part. I should’ve taken it outside and pitched it, looking back now,” Lee said.
Lee finished 15 of 38 for 172 yards, one TD and the three interceptions.
LSU’s first touchdown came when a Lee pass slipped through the hands of Ducré, and cornerback Patrick Peterson plucked it out of the air and took it 35 yards for the score. After a bad hold on the point-after, LSU led 6-0.
No stopping LaFell
A 2-yard run by Dixon gave State a temporary lead, as LSU countered with a 4-yard scoring pass from Jefferson to Brandon LaFell, who had six catches for 101 yards and two TDs.
Jefferson was 15 of 28 for a career-high 233 yards and two TDs.
After a 1-yard Dixon touchdown gave State a 14-13 edge, an Arnil Stallworth fumble set up a 22-yard field goal by LSU’s Josh Jasper.
Despite so many first-half miscues, MSU found itself down only 16-14 at halftime. It could have been ahead, but a bad hold prevented Brauchle from trying a 43-yard field goal with 5 seconds left in the second quarter.
The final tally of 30-26 was due to LSU, backed up to its own 6, taking a safety after its goal line stand. MSU started at its own 32 with no timeouts, and Lee threw four consecutive incompletions.
“I guess you could say (LSU) got the job done,” said Dixon, “they outfought us.”
Green had five catches for 100 yards for MSU, which gained 223 yards through the air and 151 on the ground.
Contact Brad Locke at email@example.com or 678-1571.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal