Last week a USC student trainer got fired for taking air out of the footballs the Trojans used against Oregon.

Saturday’s LSU-Mississippi State game had a similar, slightly deflated feel.

You knew it was a big game. All the required elements were there. Two nationally ranked teams locking up on a breezy, cool night game in Tiger Stadium, the last precious one this season.

And yet there was something missing after all the effort and energy and focus of the Alabama game came and went like a wave rolling into the shore.

What do you do the day after the crusade is over? How do you roll out of bed and do something productive?

Win or lose against Alabama, the Mississippi State game always figured to be a struggle for LSU. State isn’t the best team on LSU’s schedule, but the Bulldogs possessed just enough game to steal an upset victory if the Tigers were still looking vacantly into the distance, trying to figure out how they let the Tide slip away.

Somehow, the Tigers found a way. Their 37-17 win wasn’t masterful by any stretch. But what has come easy for this LSU team this year?

There will be those who say the 2012 Tigers are a disappointment. For them, anything less than a national championship after starting as a preseason No. 1 (in the coaches’ poll) for the first time since 1959 was going to be a failure.

This LSU team may come away from this season without a championship, though thanks to Texas A&M’s upset win over Alabama the Tigers are still mathematically alive with a chance to win the Southeastern Conference Western Division and reach the SEC Championship Game. LSU needs a lifeless Auburn team to upset Alabama in the Iron Bowl to get there, so put any reservations for Atlanta on hold.

But with all this team has had to overcome, the transfers and the dismissals and the ineligibles and the many injuries, this LSU team deserves some kind of prize. For grit. For determination. For refusing to fold even when they lost some of their best players and (it appears) their championship dreams.

They could have fallen into State’s clutches. Bulldogs quarterback Tyler Russell was venomous Saturday night, riddling LSU for 295 yards as the Bulldogs threw for 304 yards overall. It was enough to win.

And yet it was not. It is a familiar refrain for State, which has now lost 13 straight to LSU and 20 of the last 21. Close, sort of, but no left over cigars from when Auburn beat LSU here the last year State topped the Tigers in 1999.

Some will find fault in an LSU defense that in the last game plus one drive has given up a lot of yards all of a sudden. But it was a defense that was plenty good enough for the Tigers to keep their slim title hopes alive. It was better than Alabama’s defense fared against Texas A&M in what for the Tide may been a national championship-killing post-LSU letdown.

The Bulldogs set up as a similar trap, but the Tigers avoided it. They survive and advance into an uncertain future, certainly only that victory is theirs once again.