Despite four touchdowns and 183 rushing yards from running back LaBrandon Toefield, the Tigers were never able to put away the visiting Aggies, who scored the first touchdown of the game and held LSU to seven points in the second half.
"There's such a thing as winning ugly," Saban told reporters, "and I guess that's what I'd call this. Any time you can play less than what you think is your best and still win, I still think that's a good sign."
Utah State (0-2) scored on its first possession after LSU opened the game with a quick three-and-out series. A 3-yard pass from quarterback Jose Fuentes to tight end Chris Cooley on fourth down put the Aggies ahead with 8:08 to go in the first quarter.
LSU responded on its next possession. A 36-yard pass from quarterback Rohan Davey to wide receiver Josh Reed moved LSU down to the USU 24. A holding penalty pushed the Tigers back to the 34, but Davey's 29-yard pass to tight end Robert Royal put the Tigers at the 5-yard line. Toefield covered the remaining distance over the next two plays, scoring from one yard out. John Corbello's extra point tied the game with 5:35 left in the period.
Utah State failed to advance on its next possession but caught a break when Ryan Clark, taking the place of injured returner Domanick Davis, muffed the Aggies' punt. Jerome Dennis recovered for the Aggies on the LSU 27, but the Tigers got the ball back when Utah State failed to convert a 4th-and-12 play.
With time running out in the first quarter, the Davey-to-Reed connection struck again, this time for a 45-yard gain to the USU 25. It was Reed's longest gain of the night, which he finished with 5 catches for 124 yards.
Davey was 13-of-24 passing for 229 yards and ran five times for another 18. The Aggies sacked him once and forced him to tuck the ball and run on more than one occasion.
"I made a lot of bad decisions with the ball tonight, throwing into double coverage and trying to force the ball…," said Davey. "The way I played tonight, and the way we played the second half, we wouldn't have beat Auburn…"
The Tigers capped the drive on the first play of the second quarter with a five-yard scoring run from Toefield.
Corbello provided a 34-yard field goal with 4:16 to go before the half to extend LSU's lead to ten points, while Utah State failed to add to its scoring total despite advancing twice into LSU territory. Both USU drives ended with punts.
Clark also failed to cleanly field the second of those two punts, but Erin Damond came up with the loose ball for the Tigers at the LSU 16. Reed would end up handling punt return chores the rest of the night.
With 3:01 to go before halftime, LSU stuck to its ground game and advanced to the 30 on two runs from Toefield. Sticking with what was working, Davey handed off to Toefield again, and clearing blocks from Royal and wide receiver Jerel Myers cleared the way for a 70-yard touchdown.
"The receiver did a good job of blocking the safety," said Toefield, "so it was just me and the cornerback one-on-one. I just outran him. I didn't know I had that speed in me, though."
The momentum continued in LSU's favor on the ensuing kickoff, when Corbello's effort bounced off the Aggies' Steve Tate and was pounced upon by the Tigers' Ryan O'Neal at the USU 49. But the Tigers couldn't turn the break into points and took a 24-7 lead into the locker room.
The two teams traded punts to start the second half, and another Tiger turnover provided the Aggies with a chance to get back into the game. On the first play of a drive that started at its own 4-yard line, LSU lost possession when running back Devery Henderson had the ball stripped away after a 16-yard gain. Jamar Glasper recovered for Utah State at the LSU 23.
Fuentes turned to his main weapon, running back Emmit White, for four straight plays - the last of which was one-yard touchdown plunge. White, a third-team all-American last season who set an NCAA single game all-purpose mark, carried 22 times for 108 yards against LSU and added 41 receiving yards and 52 return yards.
The third quarter ended with LSU holding a somewhat precarious 24-14 lead and Utah State in possession of the football again. That changed swiftly at the start of the fourth quarter when Fuentes attempted a pass downfield and found Damond instead of his receiver. The interception and return gave the Tigers the ball at the USU 39.
After a 3-yard gain from Toefield, Davey found Reed again for a 32-yard gain down to the 4-yard line. Toefield finished the drive with a burst over the right side into the end zone, and Corbello's PAT moved LSU back in front by 17.
LSU had a chance to secure the game on its next drive, but Henderson fumbled again after the Tigers had advanced to Utah State's 30. Andre Bala recovered for the visitors at the 32 gave Utah State one last chance to get back into the game with 9:34 to play.
The fumbles marred an otherwise solid game from Henderson, who finished 76 yards on 10 carries.
Fuentes led the Aggies' into LSU territory again and successfully coverted a 4th-and-6 play that put Utah State at the 34-yard line. But on the very next play, cornerback Randall Gay, substituting for an injured Robert Davis, sacked Fuentes and forced the ball loose. Jarvis Green recovered for the Tigers.
Unable to advance the ball, LSU punted back to Utah State with just over five minutes to go in the game. A comeback was against the odds for the Aggies, but they had a chance to make their margin of defeat more respectable. Fuentes moved his team down into the LSU red zone, but on 2nd-and-5 at the 15-yard line, he threw up the middle and was intercepted by Gay at the 4.
The Tigers ran out the remaining 3:06 on the clock for their second win of the season.
"It wasn't an easy win," said Clark, who vowed he would not repeat his poor performance on special teams, "but it also wasn't a nail biter. I think we should have dominated the game more that we did…but we came out with a ‘W'. That's a positive. We're 2-0 and nobody's going to remember this game if we beat Auburn."
RUSHING - LSU: Toefield, 27-183 4 TD, Henderson 10-76, Davey 5-18, Team 1-(-2); USU: White 22-108 1 TD, Fuentes 2-(-17).
RECEIVING - LSU: Reed 5-124, Royal 5-72, Myers 2-16, Clayton 1-17; USU: Curtis 12-100, White 6-41, Suguturaga 5-33, Stallworth 3-51, Sanders 1-4, Cooley 1-3, Deml 1-3, Coleman 1-0
PASSING - LSU: Davey 24-13-0 229 Yds.; USU: Fuentes 52-30-2 235 Yds. 1 TD
PUNTING - LSU: Jones 4-172 (43.0); USU: Mullins 6-276 (46.0)
LEADING TACKLERS - LSU: Thomas 8 tackles, Faulk, Clark 5; USU: Glasper 6.5