Another long ride back to Starkville.
And this one’s going to feel a little longer than usual.
To be sure, for Mississippi State, it’s a familiar feeling, one that made the Bulldogs’ 34-29 victory in 2014 in Tiger Stadium most definitely a high point for MSU in the 120-year, 110-game series between schools.
Saturday night could have been just as big.
Down 23-3 at halftime and 23-6 going into the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs closed the gap to three points and forced an LSU punt to give themselves one last chance before big hits by the Tigers’ Donnie Alexander put an end to MSU’s comeback effort.
“It definitely would have been sweet coming back here and winning again,” said State senior safety Kivon Coman. “I love every win, so winning tonight would have been a great feeling.
“But you’ve got to play hard from the first.”
It definitely would have been a night to remember for MSU quarterback Damion Williams, who prepped at Rummel.
Williams was beaten out for the starting job by Nick Fitzgerald, but when Fitzgerald lost his helmet with State facing fourth-and-4 at its 40 inside five minutes, Williams came in.
He immediately hit Donald Gray for a 24-yard gain to the LSU 36. And with MSU coach Dan Mullen deciding to leave him in, Williams completed the drive five plays later with a 1-yard keeper.
After the Bulldogs recovered an onside kick, Williams struck again, this time to Fred Ross from 7 yards out to make it a three-point game.
“Damian’s a veteran player, and he was ready,” Mullen said of Williams, who was not made available for comment. “I’m sure he was disappointed about not starting, but he kept his head in the game.”
MSU got the ball back with 2:15 left, but this time the Tigers ended the threat of losing a program-crusher.
“We made plays, but they were making more of them,” Mullen said. “Against a team with talent LSU has, you’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities, and we didn’t, at least until the second half.
“It was not a matter of effort.”
It was a definite sign of how close the programs now are vs. where they were.
In the 11 LSU-MSU games in Baton Rouge before 2014, the Bulldogs’ average margin of defeat was 22 points.
Last year in Starkville, LSU prevailed 21-19 on a missed field goal as time expired.
This one, obviously, was much tighter, that most previous games in Tiger Stadium, just as many observers predicted it to be despite the 13-point spread.
After all, Mississippi State had bounced back from its disheartening opening-game loss to South Alabama by opening Southeastern Conference play last week with a 27-14 defeat to South Carolina.
The Bulldogs hadn’t been scored on in the first half of either game — a bad sign for what had been a slow-starting LSU offense.
State was allowing only 60 yards rushing per game. That didn’t figure to hold up against the Tigers, but the Bulldogs did look capable of containing Leonard Fournette, who had missed LSU’s last game with an ankle injury.
Plus, the Tigers were going with a new quarterback, meaning LSU figured to play it conservative.
And don’t forget how Fitzgerald had rushed for a school record (for quarterbacks) 195 yards last week, and the Tigers had trouble with mobile Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins (82 yards).
So for State, the elements for its first back-to-back victories in Tiger Stadium since 1981 and 1983 — the John Bond era — were certainly there.
But the Bulldogs did little in the first half, ending it trailing 23-3 and being outgained 282-80.
Even their one score of the half was followed by LSU driving for a matching field goal in the closing seconds.
And in the third quarter, despite dominating on both sides of the ball, they could only cut into the lead by another field goal.
And so it went — at least until those final minutes
For the record, Mississippi State is 19-48-1 in Baton Rouge.
Also for the record, it’s 299 miles back to Starkville.