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BATON ROUGE – LSU is an above .500 football team again.
The Tigers dominated 2.5-point favorite Mississippi State in the second half for a 31-16 win at Tiger Stadium Saturday night to go to 2-1 on the season and 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference. LSU was last over .500 from Oct. 16 through Oct. 22 of last year at 4-3 before losing three straight and finishing 6-7 overall and 3-5 in the SEC.
The Tigers are over .500 in the SEC for the first time since winning 28-25 at Mississippi State last year to go to 1-0, and new coach Brian Kelly is 1-0 in the SEC.
LSU put the game away by taking a 24-16 lead with 6:53 to go on a six-minute drive that covered 85 yards in 14 plays and buried the Bulldogs with tailback Josh Williams scoring the touchdown on a 7-yard run. Tailback Armoni Goodwin added a 47-yard touchdown run just two minutes later for the 31-16 lead.
State (2-1, 0-1 SEC) led 13-0 late in the second quarter, by 13-7 at halftime and by 16-10 in the third quarter.
That’s when LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels took over the game and finished completing 22 of 37 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown while leading all rushers with 93 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown.
“Jayden Daniels made a lot of plays for us,” Kelly said. “And what was evident to me was our physical condition in the third and fourth quarter. We controlled the line of scrimmage, and when everybody knew we needed to run the football, we ran the football effectively. And we were able to close out the football game.”
LSU stuffed State’s defense with 206 rushing yards on 38 carries for a 5.4-yard average. Goodwin led all backs with 75 yards on nine carries. LSU’s defense held State to 75 rushing yards on 22 carries and to 289 total yards while the Tigers put up 416.
“Just a classic battle of two really good defenses,” Kelly said.
And a gutsy call by LSU offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, whose unit could get nothing going until late in the first half. He gambled on fourth-and-three from the State 34-yard line with a 17-16 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Daniels shocked the State defense by throwing deep for wide receiver Malik Nabers, who was in single coverage and caught it for a 27-yard gain to the State 7-yard line to set up Williams’ touchdown for the 24-16 lead.
“That was a huge play,” Kelly said.
“I got open, and Jayden made a great pass,” said Nabers, who caught six passes for 76 yards. “They had confidence in me, and I had to make the play.”
Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers completed 24 of 42 passes for 214 yards and one touchdown with one interception, and he was clearly not at his best. He came in averaging 381 yards passing a game. LSU’s pass rush harassed him throughout the night and finished with four sacks.
“I thought they did a really good job of showing one thing pre-snap and doing something completely different post snap,” Rogers said. “They moved a lot with their front seven.”
The Tigers went up 17-16 early in the fourth quarter after a gift turnover from Mississippi State punt returner Austin Williams, who muffed a return at the State 9-yard line with 33 seconds to go in the third quarter. Slade Roy recovered for LSU.
“You’ve got to catch that,” State coach Mike Leach said.
Three plays later, Daniels scored on a 3-yard scramble up the middle for the touchdown at the 14:11 mark.
The Bulldogs took a 16-10 lead at the 6:31 mark of the third quarter on a 45-yard field goal by Ben Raybon.
“I thought we were explosive, but inconsistent,” Leach said. “We have just got to be consistent, especially against a team like that.”
LSU, which trailed 13-7 at the half, cut State’s lead to 13-10 early in the third quarter on a 35-yard field goal by Damian Ramos.
Mississippi State led 13-7 after a first half that looked like a dress rehearsal for a minor bowl. The Bulldogs took a 13-0 lead with 2:14 to go in the second quarter on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Rogers to wide receiver Rara Thomas.
Tailback Jo’quavious Marks put State up 6-0 midway through the first quarter on a 37-yard touchdown run through an inexplicably wide gash on an edge of LSU’s defense. Raybon missed the extra point. Rogers completed 13 of 19 passes for 108 yards in the first half around three sacks.
LSU was held to 70 yards of offense before finally clicking on its last possession of the first half for a 75-yard touchdown drive in seven plays to get within 13-7 with 46 seconds to go. Daniels completed 4-of-4 passes for 27 yards and rushed three times for 48 yards. He rambled 20 yards for a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line. He hit wide receiver Jaray Jenkins on the next play for the touchdown.
Daniels completed 9 of 13 passes in the first half for 64 yards around two sacks in the first half, but he was more dangerous as a runner, gaining 66 yards on nine carries.
Mississippi State hosts Bowling Green at noon eastern Saturday on the SEC Network, while LSU will host New Mexico at 7:30 p.m. on SEC Network+.
“Our guys were gritty,” Kelly said. “They were down in the game. They never questioned they could come back, and we’re building that mindset. We just need to be a better team in November.”
Alabama will be in town on Nov. 5, if that’s what Kelly was thinking about when he mentioned month 11.
“Incrementally keep working at it,” he said, “and this is going to be a pretty good football team.”