In a game that turned out to be more nerve-wracking than it should have been, LSU learned that it’s better to have a lead slowly slip away than it is to have to claw back.
Thanks in large part to an explosive offensive first half in which the Tigers out-gained their opponents by more than 200 yards, LSU held on to defeat Mississippi State 23-20 Saturday night. LSU led by 20 points at halftime, but were held scoreless in the second half as Mississippi State mounted its comeback.
Running back Leonard Fournette returned after missing last week’s win over Jacksonville State with an ankle injury and impressed as usual, scoring twice and rushing for 147 yards on 28 carries. With Fournette behind him, new starting quarterback Danny Etling proved himself more than capable of managing the game, completing almost two-thirds of his passes for more than 200 yards.
Here’s a breakdown of some players and position groups that gained and lost the most in Saturday’s win:
Third-down defense: When it was time to get off the field, the Tigers defense did just that. LSU dominated on third downs, holding Mississippi State to a 1-for-14 conversion rate and forcing seven punts. Coming into the game, teams were converting 31.25 percent of their third-down attempts against LSU.
Danny Etling: It’s almost impossible not to grade his stock as up after his performance Saturday night. Etling was a huge factor in LSU’s impressive first-half offensive performance, throwing for 172 yards and a touchdown in the game’s first two frames. Though his second half was far less impressive, Etling definitely solidified himself as the Tigers’ signal caller, at least for the time being.
Special teams: After LSU’s third phase dictated the pace of the game with big play after big play in their Week 2 win over Jacksonville State, special teams almost led LSU to its demise Saturday. LSU had an extra point blocked in the second quarter, keeping Mississippi State within a field goal in the fourth quarter, and effectively turned over the ball on an onside kick with 4:05 remaining in the game. That led to a Mississippi State touchdown just two plays later.
Brandon Harris: It’s hard to have your stock drop when you don’t even play, but just that happened for Harris. By not stepping on the field all day despite head coach Les Miles’ near-adamant insinuation all week that his quarterbacks would rotate, it seems that any chance of playing his way back into a starting job is slipping away from Harris.
Leonard Fournette: Fournette took the good with the bad Saturday. He scored two touchdowns, threw an impressive stiff arm and rushed for nearly 150 yards, but he lost two fumbles, including a pivotal one on a fourth-quarter fourth down play that, had he not fumbled, he possibly could’ve gone on to score.
The LSU pass rush: LSU more than doubled its sack count on the year Saturday night, downing Mississippi State’s quarterbacks six times. Arden Key came through with the most pivotal sack, bringing down and stripping the ball from Mississippi State backup quarterback Damian Williams on fourth down with 1:35 remaining, effectively ending the game.