STARKVILLE, Miss. — The leader of Buga Nation was bent on full blown domination.
He ended up praying for a way out of another fine LSU football fix.
What did you do Saturday night? Leonard Fournette put the “man” in Heisman Trophy contender. He rumbled for a career-high 159 yards on a career-high 28 carries with a career-high three rushing touchdowns. It coulda, woulda, shoulda been enough for a runaway LSU victory.
But that’s not how Les Miles’ Tigers roll. Oh, no, no.
Why send the folks dashing early for the exits and the viewers at home flipping the channels for some other fare when you can weld them to their seats with a roller coaster ride to the very last second? Why pin your opponent to their well-manicured turf with a Ronda Rousey arm bar and just be done with it? It hardly seems sporting.
Why not leave everyone, friend and foe alike, to wonder in rapt amazement just how in the world the Tigers slipped out of their iron chains in an underwater tank surrounded by sharks and daggers and personal injury lawyers and slink back across the state line with a 21-19 victory?
Now that’s entertainment.
Leave it to the Ohio States and Alabamas of the world to crush their victims like a column of Soviet tanks knocking over an Eastern European weakling. LSU is the kind of team that would make Houdini ask for the secret.
Miles certainly isn’t telling. Probably because as he says, to be honest with you, he doesn’t know himself.
Davis Wade Stadium was, it must be said, a tough room for the Tigers to win in.
The town they derisively call StarkVegas was geeked up for this LSU invasion. Fireworks. Flames. Ear-splitting rap music. And cowbells. Always cowbells. The local gentry set a record Thursday night for cowbell ringing — did you know there was such a thing? I didn’t — making a fever for more cowbells more than something out of a Christopher Walken fever dream.
Clank for clank, Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday had to be the loudest venue in America. And that was a half hour before kickoff.
It was in this pit, this Tiger trap, this half-glued hoedown that LSU had to bring a team that had its rightful season opener zapped from the record books last week by a lightning storm, led by a quarterback who’s only career start was also something you’d like to forget.
It was up to the Tigers to bring their own lightning. Under a clear, perfect night sky, LSU did exactly that.
Of course, the Tigers had thunderbolts aplenty for themselves and the opposition. As usual.
For much of the night, LSU’s biggest problem was LSU. The Tigers had a pair of Travin “What’s a fellow got to do to get a touchdown to count around here?” Dural scores erased by penalties. It had two other long gains turned back by yellow flags.
Fournette made amends for the first one by taking a direct snap out of the shotgun formation and going up, up and away over the line for the season’s first score.
What shall we call it? Leonard’s Leap? The Fournette Flop? How about the Buga Bounce? Maybe it was folly — NFL Films’ slow-motion image of Walter Payton landing right on his bean after pole vaulting over the goal line comes to mind — but it was patently unstoppable. He added a steamroller 26-yard scoring run and a quick 18-yard scoring dash that had LSU leading 21-6 late in the third quarter.
The Tigers had their collective foot on the Bulldogs’ throat. Then they inserted it in their mouths.
LSU’s offense devolved into an Australian punting festival. Too much time on the field, too muck Dak (Prescott) Attack had LSU’s praiseworthy defense gasping. Prescott pressed LSU with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, a keeper and a pass, but sort of like the Tigers couldn’t close the deal. His two-point throw to tie it with four minutes left was wide of the mark (remember that phrase) when LSU applied just enough heat to disrupt his timing.
In the end, it was State that made the fatal mistakes. A delay of game penalty pushed the Bulldogs back to where they needed a 52-yard field goal from Devon Bell to win. Bell never made anything in college longer than a 47-yarder.
His first try was well left. But wait. LSU called its last time out before foot met ball.
OK. Now you’re joking.
“I dropped down to my knees and started praying,” said Fournette, who had his eyes closed on the first try.
He watched the second sail short and right. Then he celebrated, helplessly happy.
Meanwhile, the debut and ultimately first career victory for Tigers’ starter Brandon Harris earned a passing grade, but just barely. Harris threw only 14 passes, completing nine, for 71 yards, though he did have a bomb of an early touchdown to Dural erased by penalty. Clearly with the game on the line, Miles didn’t have faith in Harris to see it through, relying yet again on his running game and his defense to save the day.
They did, but again, just barely. As football games go, it was quite the magic show.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.