Last Modified: Saturday, November 10, 2012 11:50 PM
BATON ROUGE — Not bad for an encore performance.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger followed up his coming-out party of a week ago with another strong outing Saturday night.
And this time he got to celebrate.
“The main thing is that it was a great win tonight,” Mettenberger said after throwing for 273 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Tigers wore down Mississippi State 37-17.
“Things are just clicking. We are just peaking right now. It is a good time to start peaking and we just have to keep executing like we are right now. Everybody had a good game tonight offensively. Now we are starting to make plays.”
The LSU defense wasn’t exactly dominant — State put up 351 total yards and the fourth quarter had more drama than the final score would suggest — but came up with enough big plays late to make sure Mettenberger didn’t get upstaged again, like he did by A.J. McCarron’s late heroics for Alabama last week.
The Tigers’ only two sacks of the game — back to back, midway into the fourth quarter — kept the Bulldogs from making it more interesting, and safety Craig Loston removed all doubt when he returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown with just over a minute to play.
LSU head coach Les Miles officially pronounced the Tigers free of any sort of feared Alabama hangover.
“The question was, Was this football team going to come to play after playing an emotional game last week?” Miles said. “There is no question.
“I felt like we played a pretty good football team. I liked how we responded. We could have been hang dog, we could have been miserable. That’s not the way this team is.”
The Tigers (9-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) kept their Bowl Championship Series hopes alive as Mettenberger became the first LSU quarterback in four years to have back-to-back 200 yards passing games.
“You’re seeing the coaches have more confidence in us,” said Mettenberger. “They are mixing it up, more run-pass, more balanced. Guys are making plays, having fun out there. That’s all you ask for, to have fun.”
They do seem a lot happier with a legitimate passing game to ignite the offense.
“The game seems so short when the offense is out on the field for us now,” safety Eric Reid said. “You can just sit back, watch and enjoy your offense go up and down the field. It also keeps us fresh.”
Mettenberger completed 19 of 30 passes, often attacking downfield, including two very clutch touchdown tosses of 19 yards to Jarvis Landry and 20 yards to Spencer Ware.
“You cannot say enough about (Mettenberger) these last couple of games,” said Landry, who had career highs of nine receptions for 109 yards. “The game seems like it is really slowing down for him. He is giving his receivers the opportunity to make plays. In the end that is all we can really ask.”
Mettenberger was at his best late in the first half, after Mississippi State pulled to within 13-10 on Devon Bell’s 47-yard field goal with 47 seconds left.
He needed three plays — completions of 15 and 36 yards — to get the Tigers in the end zone on a perfectly thrown fade to Ware with 13 seconds and the Tigers went to the break up 20-10.
“Huge,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “We went down and scored, (we’re) going to get the ball to start the second half. Shouldn’t have happened. We’re talking a totally different scenario if we don’t give that up.”
LSU still has to survive the non-stop peppering by Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell.
The Bulldogs had 47 yards rushing but didn’t really seem interested in challenging the Tigers on the ground as Russell instead used a short passing game to complete 26 of 38 for 295 yards and a touchdown. Backup Dak Prescott threw State’s other scoring pass on his lone attempt of the game.
“We didn’t expect them to throw the ball so much,” Reid said. “They still did a pretty good job of it … but we did enough to win the game.”
“We had to make some adjustments,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “They did some stuff we didn’t expect them to do. Once we got adjusted, we starting stopping.”
Right up to the end, in fact, when Loston stepped in front of Russell pass at full throttle at the goal and line and dashed the length of the field for the capper.
“He has been bringing the wood like that,” Reid said. “I am actually kind of jealous of him to be honest.”