STARKVILLE, Miss. - With just less than 12 minutes to play in Thursday night’s game, when Jarrett Lee found Rueben Randle for LSU’s first touchdown, the scoreboard at Davis Wade Stadium said the Tigers led Mississippi State by 10 points.
It seemed like so much more.
If the Bulldogs were to complete an upset bid they flirted with for three-plus quarters, they would need to score twice down the stretch against an LSU defense that had spent more time in the offensive backfield than some of State’s own running backs.
“We just needed a couple more stops,” LSU safety Eric Reid said.
The Tigers pitched a shutout the rest of the way, getting a late Drew Alleman field goal for the 19-6 final.
“I told the team the defense needed to come in and play the way they did for us to have the success that we came to have,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “We weren’t perfect by any stretch, but I felt like the intensity of that defense was strong and that really ended up being the tale of the day.”
Thursday’s performance by the LSU defense continued the kind of start that has given fans flashbacks to BCS championship seasons of years past.
It all started when the Tigers shut down Oregon’s high-octane spread offense in the season opener. The Ducks returned quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James as potential Heisman Trophy contenders, but they failed to rush for 100 yards against the LSU defense.
The Tigers warmed up for Thursday’s showdown by stuffing Northwestern State in a 49-3 home win.
This was to be a different kind of test.
Unlike the speedy Ducks, State rolled out a big, veteran offensive line. The senior tandem of quarterback Chris Relf and running back Vick Ballard had piled up big numbers the past two weeks and was expected to challenge LSU up the middle.
“All week we prepared for that, making sure we read our keys,” Reid said.
Ballard, who entered Thursday ranked fifth nationally in averaging 150.5 yards rushing, carried 10 times for 38 yards. Relf, who ran for 106 yards in a nail-biting loss at Auburn a week earlier, was yanked by coach Dan Mullen in the fourth quarter after managing only six yards on 10 carries.
Before facing the LSU defense, the Bulldogs ranked first in the SEC in total offense and rushing offense.
The Tigers held State to 52 yards rushing on 34 carries, sacked Relf and backup Tyler Russell four times and limited the Bulldogs to two field goals.
Until a last-ditch drive in the final three minutes, the Bulldogs had mustered just 134 yards in total offense.
The Tigers registered an eye-popping 15 tackles for a loss, with defensive linemen Bennie Logan, Michael Brockers, Kendrick Adams, Lavar Edwards and Anthony Johnson combining for 11.5 of them.
Junior cornerback Morris Claiborne had two interceptions. Sophomore defensive back Tyrann Mathieu had a team-high 10 tackles, including nine solo stops.
“You know when you have a defense like that, it’s not going to be easy to drive on them ever,” LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said.
When he met with his team Thursday at halftime, Miles stressed getting into the end zone instead of setting for field goals, as LSU had twice in taking a 6-3 lead.
Four field goals by Alleman, however, proved to be plenty.
“I think our defense has a chance to be a very exceptional defense,” Miles said.
“If they play like that and they play that way for four quarters, we’ll do what we need to do.”
LSU visits West Virginia on Sept. 24.