STARKVILLE, Miss. - So much for the drawbacks of a short work week.
Earlier this week, LSU and Mississippi State were scrambling to get themselves ready to play Thursday night instead of on a customary Saturday, but the truncated schedule didn’t seem to have any effect on the intensity or the physicalness of the game. The Tigers and Bulldogs slugged it out for 60 minutes before LSU prevailed 19-6.
“It didn’t matter, because both teams came out and dominated, and both teams came out and played physical,” Tigers defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “It goes for any team out there - if you play on Monday, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, it doesn’t matter.
“Big ballers come to work every day. They can play on any day of the week.”
Both teams were hitting hard throughout, but it was the LSU defense that got in the most licks. The Tigers tackled the Bulldogs behind the line of scrimmage 15 times for losses of 60 yards.
“We knew that in order to be successful we could not allow them to establish the ground game,” LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said. “Our kids did a great job of focusing during a short week. That, along with the great effort and intensity, is really what made it happen.”
The defensive line made much of it happen as tackles Bennie Logan and Michael Brockers had 3.5 and 3.0 tackles for loss, respectively, end Kendrick Adams and tackle Anthony Johnson had two each and end Lavar Edwards had one.
“It definitely started up front,” said cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who led LSU with 10 tackles, including one for loss.
State had just 76 of its 193 total yards (nearly 350 less than their average) in the second half, and all but 17 of those came on the final drive when the outcome was decided and LSU backed off.
“The whole defense turned it up, especially the line,” Brockers said. “We were just trying to get penetration in the backfield. We weren’t getting it in the first half, but that’s what we did in the second half.”
The Tigers were also physical on offense, which they needed to be against a Bulldogs defense that played much better than it had in the first two games. LSU eventually grinded out 148 rushing yards, after gaining 175 in each of the first two games, which was far less than the 299 State had given up on average in its first two games.
“We had to take what they gave us,” halfback Spencer Ware said. “They landed some licks on us and one on me personally, but we kept fighting and fighting and pounding and pounding. My personality and mindset is that you’re going to have to keep coming back, because I’m not going to stop.
“As long as I’m not coughing up the ball, that’s all that matters. You can hit me as hard as you want, and I’m going to get back up and run right at you full speed.”
Ware rushed 22 times for 107 yards. He was spelled periodically by Michael Ford, who carried 13 times for 50 yards. Ware had three of his longest runs of the game - nine, nine, and 23 yards - in the fourth quarter as the Bulldogs defense wore down.
“We could feel them getting worn down,” guard T-Bob Hebert said. “It’s like waves hitting against a rock and eroding and eroding and eroding, and then you pop a big one.”
State started committing eight or nine players to stopping the run, figuring that gave it a better chance of stopping the Tigers run game and banking on the passing game not being able to make it pay. But LSU did make State pay by starting the most important possession of the game, at the start of the fourth quarter, with a 24-yard completion from Jarrett Lee to Rueben Randle. Lee added completions of eight, five and 11 yards to Odell Beckham before ending the drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Randle.
That was the only touchdown of the game and gave the Tigers their first breathing room with a 16-6 lead with 11:56 left.
“That was one of the key things that opened up the running game for us,” Ware said. “We needed first downs, and we got them on the ground and then we hit the long ball in there. Teams watch that, and they have to respect the passing game now.
“We’re not just a running team. They see that we’re balanced. They know that we like to run the ball, but they have to take the pass into consideration now that we’ve opened it up.”