STARKVILLE, Miss. — After watching Mississippi State dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott race up and down the field last season in Tiger Stadium, LSU running back Leonard Fournette wasn’t going to let him steal the show again.
So Fournette did Prescott one better Saturday night in a battle of Heisman Trophy candidates in Davis Wade Stadium.
Fournette, a sophomore, launched his campaign by rushing for a career-high 159 yards and scored all three of the Tigers’ touchdowns, another career best, in 14th-ranked LSU’s 21-19 exhilarating win over No. 25 Mississippi State.
To everyone’s surprise, Fournette even showed off his own dual-threat capabilities early in the game.
He took a snap while lined up in the Wildcat formation and dove over the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown to stake his team to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Fournette, who averaged 5.7 yards per carry, said the Tigers only started practicing the Wildcat recently.
“(Running backs) Coach (Frank Wilson) told me ‘up and over,’ ” Fournette said.
That short run was just a start for the powerful 230-pound Fournette, who managed just 18 yards on his first seven carries.
Settling back into his real role as the Tigers’ featured tailback, he twisted and twirled his way to 141 more yards — including a 26-yard touchdown on LSU’s next possession.
Fournette had a lot of help from LSU’s defense, which stifled Prescott for much of the first half after he crushed the Tigers in State’s 34-29 victory in Baton Rouge.
Prescott, who rushed for 105 yards and threw for 268 that night, accounted for just 71 yards in the first half Saturday night.
After a second consecutive three-and-out series against the Bulldogs’ offense, which included two sacks of Prescott by freshman defensive end Arden Key and sophomore defensive tackle Davon Godchaux in a three-play span, Fournette struck again.
A short punt gave LSU the ball at the State 46 and Brandon Harris fired a 20-yard completion to Malachi Dupre.
On the next play, Harris tossed the ball back to Fournette, who used a crushing block on the edge by fullback J.D. Moore to get around the corner.
Fournette did the rest himself, turning it into a 26-yard touchdown scoring run for a 14-0 lead at the end of one period.
Mississippi State got a pair of field goals on the final series of the first half and first series of the second half to get back into the game and excite the crowd, but Fournette continued to pile it on when LSU got the ball back.
Starting at the LSU 25, Fournette ripped off a 20-yard run to quiet 62,531 fans — the second-largest crowd in MSU history — and six plays later finished the drive with an 18-yard TD dash.
Fournette flashed his power on that play as well. He took a handoff from Harris while running to the right and reached the end zone untouched for his final score of the night with 6:48 remaining in the third quarter.
“I didn’t know my number was going to be called that much,” he said of his career-high 28 carries. “They just call the play, and I just have to run it.”
Powered by Fournette’s third 100-yard game in a row, counting his 146 yards at Texas A&M in the regular-season finale and 143 yards against Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, LSU rushed for 266 yards.
“He’s obviously a very, very talented back,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “I think we missed too many tackles, and when we put on the tape, that’ll be a big factor for us.
“But (Fournette) made us miss a lot of tackles,” he added. “He did a lot of damage out on the perimeter.”
Yet, the Bulldogs weren’t done, and Prescott, who finished with 355 passing yards in completing 34 of 52 pass attempts, led his team to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives to make it close.
Then, he got his team close enough for a 52-yard field goal attempt to win the game on the final play.
Devon Bell’s first try, which came just after LSU coach Les Miles called time out to ice him, was wide left. But Miles had called a second time out, and Bell was short and wide to the right on the re-try.
Fournette may have helped the Tigers there, too.
“I dropped down to my knees and started praying,” he said. “I had my eyes closed on the first kick, but I watched the second one.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.