With 48 seconds left in the first half Saturday night, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen felt comfortable his team was in perfect position to give LSU a good run for its money after halftime.
After getting a 47-yard field goal from freshman Devon Bell, which cut LSU’s six-point lead in half to 13-10, Mississippi State prepared to go to the locker room knowing it would get the second-half kickoff and perhaps build on its momentum with a touchdown on its first possession.
But Mullen’s plans were foiled when the ninth-ranked Tigers drove 71 yards in just 35 seconds to a touchdown that gave LSU a 20-10 halftime advantage and led to an eventual 37-17 victory.
While the 20-yard TD pass from Zach Mettenberger to Spencer Ware with 13 seconds to play hurt, it was a blown coverage on the second play of the quick drive — a 36-yard completion to James Wright to the MSU 20 — that got the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs in trouble.
“That was huge,” Mullen said of LSU’s crisp four-play drive. “We went down and scored and we were going to get the ball to start the second half. We thought we were in pretty good position, but we had a blown coverage.”
Mullen explained the Bulldogs were supposed to have a safety over the top in their Cover 2, but the help wasn’t there and Wright snagged the ball right in front of the Mississippi State bench.
“Really, it shouldn’t have happened,” Mullen said. “We should have been in a position to go in at halftime and not give up that touchdown. Right there at the end of the game, it could have been a whole different scenario. It would have been a six-point game.”
Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said the Bulldogs had another miscommunication on the touchdown pass to Ware as he snuck out of the backfield on a wheel route and made a diving catch at the goal line with linebacker Matthew Wells in pursuit.
“When you do that type of stuff against good teams, they’re going to capitalize on it,” said MSU cornerback Johnthan Banks.
“We just for the wrong checks and LSU caught us in some bad plays, some bad coverages. They made the plays ... they executed and we didn’t.”
That wasn’t the only place it went wrong for Mississippi State, however, as the Bulldogs got that touchdown back early in the third quarter on a mistake by the Tigers.
After State’s Dee Arrington recovered a muffed punt by LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. at the LSU 29, Tyler Russell made the Tigers pay — tossing a 14-yard scoring pass to Chad Bumphis with 12:52 left in the third period to make it 20-17.
Once again, Mississippi State was in perfect position to pull off the upset in front of 92,831 fans in Tiger Stadium with almost 28 minutes remaining in the game.
But again, LSU responded to regain the upper hand.
The Tigers’ next two drives resulted in a 41-yard Drew Alleman field goal and a 1-yard TD blast by fullback J.C. Copeland to extend the lead to 30-17, while the Bulldogs had to punt after each of their next two possessions.
While Mullen felt fortunate to hold LSU to a field goal on the first drive, the second one was a backbreaker when the Tigers marched 80 yards in 11 plays.
Beckham had a 22-yard catch to start the drive and running back Michael Ford set up the touchdown with a 27-yard gain on a screen play to the MSU 4.
“Big drive,” Mullen said. “To be honest, I thought at times we held up good. We stopped them the next time they had the ball, but those little things hurt us.
“Give them credit. Their star players made big plays at key moments in the game. That’s what star players do. That’s why they’re a good football team, so give them credit.”
After Mississippi State finally forced an LSU punt, the Bulldogs drove from their 3 to the LSU 15 and faced a third-and-4.
But Russell, who completed 26 of 38 passes for 295 yards and one TD, was sacked on back-to-back plays by defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo to end the threat with 6:26 to play.
Russell’s next series ended with LSU safety Craig Loston intercepting a pass, which he returned 100 yards for the final score of the evening — which started with much promise for State with a 74-yard touchdown drive.
“When we start off quick, the defense will step up for us,” said Russell. “Unfortunately, we weren’t ale to put the ball in the end zone like we needed to on key drives. When you get the ball down there, you have to make the most of it — and we didn’t.”