The LSU defense was on the field for a long time in the fourth quarter on a hot, muggy Saturday evening in Tiger Stadium.
Almost too long, in fact.
But when the Tigers needed to get off the field with the game on the line, they knew exactly what they had to do while trying to preserve a precarious three-point lead over Mississippi State with just 2:15 remaining in the game.
“We all came up (on the sideline) and said, ‘We have to go get it,’” Tigers outside linebacker Arden Key said. “After they scored (the second touchdown), we talked and said we knew what was on the line. … We had to do what we do best.”
On Saturday night, that was getting after the Mississippi State quarterbacks.
LSU piled up six sacks in the game, none more important that the one Key got with 1:35 to play to secure the Tigers’ 23-20 victory in their Southeastern Conference opener in Tiger Stadium.
Key and defensive end Davon Godchaux teamed up for two big plays with Mississippi State trying to mount one last drive after scoring a pair of touchdowns in a span of 40 seconds just a few minutes earlier.
On third-and-8 at the MSU 25, Key and Godchaux ran a “tech” stunt against the Bulldogs’ offensive line.
Key looped inside and Godchaux went outside, which helped Key quickly barge into the backfield and force Mississippi State backup quarterback Damian Williams into an incompletion.
Then, on fourth down, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda dialed up the same stunt in an attempt to stop Mississippi State right there.
This time, Godchaux freed Key up again to get to Williams for a game-clinching 12-yard sack.
For lagniappe, the ball popped loose and Godchaux fell on it which finally allowed a paid crowd of 99,910 to finally breathe again after State nearly roared all the way back from a 20-0 second-quarter deficit.
It was the sixth sack of the night for LSU, which went into the game with a goal of recording four sacks. The Tigers had a total of five in its first two games against Wisconsin and Jacksonville State.
Key had two of the sacks and the all-important hurry of Williams, while defensive end Lewis Neal had 1.5 sacks. Godchaux had one and cornerback Tre’Davious White shared a sack with Neal.
“We were getting after them pretty good tonight,” Godchaux said. “We saw that on film that we could get in there.”
The last two stunts by Key and Godchaux that helped clinch the victory came at the suggestion of the defensive line, Neal said.
“We told coach (Aranda) what we needed to run,” Neal said with a smile. “They (Aranda and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron) agreed and we went out there and did it. We had been running that stunt all game and the end result was that I was happy for Arden.”
Godchaux joked that Key owed him a dinner for helping get the two plays that helped the Tigers defense hang on.
“I set him up pretty good,” Godchaux said. “He needs to buy me a steak. On the last play, Arden was about to beat the guard and I pinned the tackle up against me. So he was wide open to get the sack.”
The defense was asked to hang on after Mississippi State, which trailed 23-6 late in the final period, got a 1-yard touchdown from Williams, who came in for starter Nick Fitzgerald earlier in the drive, with 4:10 to play.
The Bulldogs then pulled off an onside kick that Dez Harris recovered at the LSU 32. From there, they needed just two plays for Williams to toss a 7-yard touchdown pass to Fred Ross to cut the Tigers’ lead to 23-20.
“They got a few touchdowns at the end that they shouldn’t have gotten,” Godchaux said. “But it was good to get out with a win. It’s an SEC win … we’ll take that.”