LSU running back Kenny Hilliard dives past Mississippi State defensive back Nickoe Whitley for a 27-yard touchdown during the first half Saturday night in Starkville, Miss. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Sunday, October 06, 2013 12:19 AM
STARKVILLE, Miss. — LSU still can’t tackle very well.
But it was all good here Saturday night. The Tigers are pretty hard to tackle themselves.
Mississippi State had its problems getting a grip on Jeremy Hill and none of the Bulldogs could cover Odell Beckham or Jarvis Landry.
For that matter, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger pretty much had his way with the Bulldogs and — thanks to some rare input from a struggling, leaky defense — the Tigers were able to pull away in the second half to whip Mississippi State 59-26.
But there was a lot more LSU anxiety than a 33-point victory would suggest.
“If you’re going to throw your hat into the ring and fight for a win, you’ve got to fight like heck,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “Our guys fought like hell and they know you have to do that every week.”
They might, if they don’t start slowing somebody down. LSU, which returns home to face No. 18 Florida next week, beat Mississippi State for the 14th consecutive time and the 21st time in the last 22 seasons.
This one was a little different than most, with only brief touches of just enough defense.
Mettenberger completed 25 of 29 passes for 340 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both to Beckham, who finished with 179 yards on his nine receptions.
Landry likely would have joined Beckham in the century club if LSU hadn’t shut the passing game down late, but finished with 96 yards on eight receptions.
Hill’s two touchdowns included the longest run of his career, 69 yards, and he finished with 157 yards in 16 carries. Kenny Hilliard had six carries, but scored three touchdowns, including a 34-yard run to open the second quarter.
It was the most points LSU has scored in a Southeastern Conference game since 1997 — and for a good while it looked like the Tigers (5-1, 2-1 SEC) might need every one of them.
The Tigers’ 563 yards was the most in the Miles era for a conference game, yet they didn’t exactly run laps around the Bulldogs offense, which used two quarterbacks to ring up 468 yards.
The Bulldogs (2-3, 0-2) never did quit churning out yards, but somehow the Tigers defense held State to a single field goal in the second half, no points in the final 27 minutes.
“We got going a little slow,” LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said. “But we went in there at halftime and said, ‘You know what? It stops here.’ We came out and played our tails off and had a great game.
“We made some strategic changes. (Defensive coordinator John) Chavis came in and made some corrections. We just kept our technique and played hard.”
The LSU defense did bring some football sanity to a certified track meet early in the fourth quarter.
“Once we threw that interception, I thought that that was the turning point right there,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
LSU scored on the first play of the fourth quarter on Mettenberger’s 33-yard pass to Beckham for a 38-26 lead.
State had been answering most of Mettenberger’s best work all night, but this time, moments later, freshman cornerback Tre’Davious White intercepted an overthrown pass by Dak Prescott and returned it 40 yards to the Bulldog 5-yard line.
Hill scored on the next play — 14 LSU points in 31 seconds — for a 45-26 lead and the first hint of breathing room.
The LSU defense followed by turning away a fourth-down gamble by the Bulldogs and the Tigers were never seriously threatened again while adding two late touchdowns.
“You saw some defensive stops and some defensive plays,” Miles said. “Some of our young guys stepped up … we weren’t perfect in any way but we are a young (defensive) team that’s coming.”
The LSU offense never had much problem.
“Anytime you’ve got a balanced offense and they’re concerned that you’re going to throw the football, they’re not really confident with what they call on defense,” Miles said. “You can take advantage.
“We know what our receivers are capable of.”
“They were playing the run game a little bit harder,” Beckham said. “Give all the credit to Zach for making all the right plays, all the right reads.”
The Tigers, who punted twice, converted 6 of 11 third downs and got both of the fourth-down gambles they tried.
“They won about every one-on-one battle on the edge,” Mullen said. “That’s as good of wide receiver pair (Beckham and Landry) as I’ve seen in a long, long time in college football.
“They made a lot of plays. It wasn’t like there were guys wide open. We’ve got guys draped on their receivers and they’re still making play after play down the field. They seemed to win every battle.
“We wore down and didn’t make plays in the fourth quarter. That’s when the game was decided.”
“I think the defense will improve,” Miles said. “I know we only allowed three points in the back end (second half) of the game and outscored them 31-3.”