BATON ROUGE, La. – From start to finish, Mississippi State’s night in Baton Rouge was a disappointment.
From the cheerleader dropping the ‘T’ flag when State ran out of the tunnel in front of 92,538 golden-clad fans to the domination on the field that was LSU’s 29-7 victory.
“A lot of people have responsibilities on those turnovers,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. “I do, certainly the quarterbacks do, the offensive line and the receivers all do.”
The 12th-ranked Tigers scored on its first three possessions to put the Bulldogs (1-2, 0-2 in Southeastern Conference) in an early 12-0 hole in the first half thanks to a combined 164 yardage of field goals by senior kicker Josh Jasper. The LSU plackicker tied the school record for field goals made in a game (four) in the first 30 minutes of play.
The Bayou Bengals offense wouldn’t be forced to punt until the clock read 7:31 on the clock in the final quarter.
“Certianly the number of turnovers that we got and the short field was very significant,” LSU head coach Les Miles said. “This is a young football team and a team, in my opinion….has a very, very good upside.”
Mississippi State first positive drive into Tigers territory ended with junior starting quarterback Chris Relf lofting a pass to Arceto Clark that was tipped after the sophomore was bumped when the ball was in the air. LSU junior cornerback Patrick Peterson corralled the tip and returned it 46 yards near midfield while Clark was flat on his back motioning for a pass interference call that never came.
“The kid went up and made a heck of a play on our receiver,” Mullen said. “Arceto’s kinda like ‘he bumped me and took the ball away from me’ and I said ‘yeah, bump him and take the ball away from him’.”
The LSU offense turned the turnover into a six-play drive that totaled just 18 yards but resulted in a converted 51-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Relf was about to be sacked by senior middle linebacker Kelvin Shepherd and the junior simply turned and heaved the ball downfield and it landed in the waiting arms of sophomore Morris Claibourne giving the Tigers excellent field position again inside MSU territory.
LSU (3-0, 2-0) turned five State turnovers into 26 points for the home team on short drives that obviously kept the MSU defense on the field for nearly 17 minutes of the half.
“This is two years in a row against a team that we are negative four in turnover ratio,” Mullen said. “You’re not going to win any football games turning the ball over in that fashion.”
Mississippi State opened the second half by getting the game’s first touchdown on a 1-yard run by junior Vick Ballard. The Bulldogs went 81 yards on 13 plays after losing its starting quarterback halfway into the possession after Relf was popped by LSU junior safety Derek Helton leaving Mullen with no choice but to run redshirt freshman Tyler Russell into the game without notice.
Russell, a former Parade All-American from Meridian, responded by completing two passes back-to-back, executing two draws and leading MSU to its first points of the game. After not seeing a single snap in the first half for the first time this season, Russell however finished his first SEC road game 5-for-10 for 83 yards and three interceptions.
“LSU’s is probably the toughest place to play in so I got that out of the way,” Russell said. “You can’t blame one guy for those (interceptions) but as a quarterback I’ll put it on my back.”
Relf was not placed back in the game and in the postgame media conference Mullen said his quarterback “got a little dinged up” and would be reevaluated this coming week.
Ballard’s run on third down and goal run not only silenced most of the announced attendance of 92,538 but also gave their young quarterback some much-needed confidence in a hostile environment.
LSU answered the road team’s momentum immediately by going 60 yards thanks mostly to the right arm of LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson as the junior completed three passes to march his offense down the field. Jefferson finished the possession with a 16-yard quarterback keeper that found the end zone.
“After we finally felt like they had shown their hand (on defense), we felt like coach (LSU offensive coordinator Gary) Crowton put a nice drive to move the ball down the field,” Miles said. “That’s how we want to play. That’s who we are.”
After coming into the game with his fanbase wondering if he should be benched after a poor game at Vanderbilt last week, the LSU starting quarterback was efficient in accounting for 137 yards (97 passing, 40 rushing).
The Tigers defense then set its sights on rattling Russell on the next series and did so when on the next drive. The MSU quarterback had four LSU defensive lineman on top of him while the Bulldogs attempted to set up a screen pass to LaDarius Perkins but the pressure caught Russell, knocked the ball up in the air and it was caught by LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis.
The turnover led to a 2-yard touchdown run by junior Stevan Ridley and would end all positive feelings for the squad in all black Saturday night.
Mississippi State will hope to avoid losing three consecutive conference games when it hosts Georgia next weekend for a 6 p.m. kickoff.