But unlike the flat third quarters it played against Tennessee and Kentucky, LSU closed the door on Mississippi State before 45,514 fans at Scott Field and handed the Bulldogs their fifth straight loss, 42-0. Taking advantage of two second half turnovers and turning them into touchdowns, the Tigers (4-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) scored three third quarter touchdowns and went on to post their first shutout since last season's 34-0 win over Kentucky.
The Tigers looked like they were headed for another unproductive second half when they were forced to punt after taking the opening kickoff. But Mississippi State returner Ray Ray Bivines never got a handle on the punt and Kyle Kipps recovered the fumble for LSU at the MSU 38.
Five plays later, the Tigers faced third-and-14 at the 22-yard line and called a timeout. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher recognized a switch-off the Mississippi State defensive backs were making when LSU put a receiver in motion. Sticking with the play Fisher called before the timeout, quarterback Rohan Davey found receiver Josh Reed running through the end zone and connected for a touchdown - Reed's second of the game. It gave the Tigers their all-important three-touchdown cushion with 11:23 to go in the third quarter.
"(Reed) did a nice job on that route," said Davey. "The line did a great job of protecting to the last minute. Anybody could have thrown that in there. He did a nice job of getting open, and I was fortunate enough to get him the ball and he scored.
"It gave us the momentum because we haven't been a real good third quarter team, and we wanted to come out and establish ourselves. I think we did that in the third quarter."
Davey found Reed on ten passes, allowing the junior receiver to post over 100 yards in catches for the 13th time in his career. Reed's 146 receiving yards moved him past the 2,000-yard mark and pass former Tiger Andy Hamilton (1,995) into fourth place all-time among LSU receivers. He now has 2,047 heading into this week's game against Ole Miss.
LSU gave itself more breathing room just minutes after extending its lead to 21-0, beginning with the coverage on the ensuing kickoff that forced Mississippi State (1-5, 0-4) to start at its drive at its own 9-yard line. Facing an immediate third-and-seven, quarterback Kevin Fant, who had taken over for struggling starter Wayne Madkin in the second quarter, through to his right and was intercepted by free safety Ryan Clark.
The Tigers moved the ball quickly toward the end zone, getting a big third-and-10 completion from Davey to Michael Clayton that moved the ball down to the MSU 1. Domanick Davis finished off the drive with a plunge behind a strong block from right guard Dwayne Pierce, who was playing in his first game since injuring his ankle against Florida.
"The third quarter was a big thing for us," said Pierce. "We wanted to come out and do some great things."
Pierce and the Tigers took their halftime talk from head coach Nick Saban to heart. Having watched his team blow a 14-0 lead at Tennessee and escape Kentucky with a 29-25 lead after leading at the half, Saban had a good idea of what was going on over in the Mississippi State locker room during intermission.
"Basically, what I talked about was the coaches over there (the MSU locker room) telling them, ‘If you stay close to (LSU) in the first half, you can get them in the third quarter.'" Saban recalled. "…We need to learn how to dominate a game and play for 60 minutes, not relax in a game, never let up, and I don't think that happened."
The Tigers were slow to get on the dominating track in the first half, failing to score on their first possession. After Mississippi State punted following its first failed drive, LSU advanced down to the MSU 16 where a 33-yard John Corbello field goal missed wide to the right.
The Bulldogs moved into LSU territory on their next possession and gambled on a fake punt on fourth-and-nine at the 41. The snap went to Dicenzo Miller, who was playing after missing time with an ankle sprain, but he was held to no gain when Chad Lavalais and Jeremy Lawrence met him before the blocks could develop.
Miller led all Mississippi State rushers with 50 yards on 15 carries, but his longest play of the night came on a 30-yard short toss on the Bulldogs' opening drive.
The two teams traded punts before LSU closed the first quarter heading to the Mississippi State red zone behind the rushing of LaBrandon Toefield. Having run effectively against the Bulldogs in last season's 45-38 overtime win at Tiger Stadium, Saban reverted back to the old game plan with the hopes that it would force the MSU secondary to guard against the rush. The clincher came at 13:53 in the second quarter when Toefield, who led the Tigers with 55 yards on 15 carries, finished the 8-play, 45-yard drive with a seven-yard run off right tackle for a touchdown. A personal foul penalty was called against Toefield for celebration, but Corbello converted the 28-yard extra point for a 7-0 LSU lead.
"Once we're able to run the ball a little bit, it settled (MSU) down some and certainly helped us protection-wise," said Saban. "Our whole goal going into this game was to not have negative plays, to minimize the negative plays. Once we started doing that, we had a lot more consistency."
Fant began the second quarter for State at quarterback after Madkin was 3-for-6 passing in the first 15 minutes of the game. A 22-yard pass from Fant to Miller put the Bulldogs in LSU territory for the first time, and an 18-yard strike to Dontae Walker got them to the Tiger 20. But following a two-yard loss on a Walker run, Fant threw to his left and watched as Damien James intercepted at the 15 and returned the ball to the LSU 36. Starting his first game at left corner in place of Erin Damond, James improved his SEC-leading pickoff total to five on the season.
"We didn't (give up) too many big plays tonight," said James, who also broke up a pass and had a tackle for a loss. "I thought they'd throw the ball deeper more than they did, but the didn't - which I'm glad they didn't."
Saban said James would have probably made the transition to corner quicker had LSU not faced the wide-open passing attacks of Florida and Kentucky the last two weeks, which forced James to play primarily in as a nickel or dime back.
With the running game firmly established, the Tigers went to the air after the turnover. Davey, who admitted to being a little antsy after finishing the first quarter 2-for-8, hit 5-of-6 passes on the 7-play drive. He connected once with Clayton for 28 yards and four times to Reed for 12, 16, 23 yards and a 13-yard scoring play that once again utilized Reed‘s athletic edge in man-to-man coverage.
"We worked on that the whole week, kind of a little roll play," said Davey "It's hard for somebody to run with Josh the whole way across the field. I knew he was open. It was just a matter of me waiting and getting it up high enough so he could get underneath."
Davey completed 16 out of 25 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns and moved past Y.A. Tittle into 10th place in LSU history in passing yardage. He stands at 2,546 yards with five regular season games remaining in his career.
With LSU leading 14-0, Fant led Mississippi State on its longest drive of the game (5:06) and brought the Bulldogs to the LSU 20. But after tight end Donald Lee dropped a third-and-eight pass, John-Michael Martin came in for a 37-yard field goal and pulled it wide left.
Punts were traded again before LSU downed the ball to end the first half, leaving the Tigers to contemplate some unpleasant questions in the locker room. Would the offense fizzle again in the third quarter? Would the defense reveal its big-play susceptibility.
Defensive end Jarvis Green addressed the second question the night before the game, gathering the defense for a meeting that was admittedly out of place for the soft-spoken senior. To the point, he asked his teammates not to concede anything to Mississippi State and give a total effort regardless of what the scoreboard said. Plus, he wanted to end the complaints heard around Baton Rouge about the Tigers' lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
"The last few games we went through the motions, especially the defense," said Green. "It seemed like we were out there waiting for the game to end. Tonight, I saw a lot of guys pumped. Guys weren't worrying about the clock. They were ready to get out there and make some things happen."
The defense rose to the occasion when Mississippi State established its first sustained drive of the third quarter. After Fant brought the Bulldogs to a first down the LSU 33, defensive tackle Chad Lavalais came through the middle and wrapped up the quarterback for a 7-yard loss. State had to punt back to the Tigers, who were now firing on all offensive cylinders.
Domanick Davis took over tailback duties from Toefield and strung together the most impressive runs on the night, going 16, 4, 5 and 19 yards on four consecutive carries. Even the 4-yard gain was a stunner, as Davis tossed aside back-up safety Mike Randall in the backfield to salvage the play.
With the Bulldogs guarding against the run, Davey found tight end Eric Edwards wide open behind the secondary for a 29-yard touchdown and a 35-0 LSU lead. Mississippi State fans, who already had a grip on their car keys, were now heading for the exits at Davis Wade Stadium.
"The main thing was we were able to establish the line of scrimmage," said Josh Reed. "We were able to run the ball, and that kept them honest. The secondary had to put a lot of people in the box to try and stop the run. When they did, we made the big catches."
Madkin was put back into the game at the tail end of the third quarter and ran eight straight pass plays, needing to convert twice on third down to keep the drive alive. The ninth play, a two-yard run from Madkin, picked up another first down, and a pass interference call moved the Bulldogs down to the LSU 39. But it was all squandered on the next play when Madkin threw for Miller on the State sideline and had his pass bounce of off Miller and into the hands of LSU safety Lionel Thomas.
Starting with the final play of the third quarter, Davey came in for one more drive at quarterback and found Clayton for a 27-yard gain to the MSU 35. Running back Devery Henderson then picked up seven yards on a run and found open field in front of him on the next play for a 28-yard touchdown with 13:31 to play.
The Tiger rushers, including Derron Parquet who came in on mop up duty in the fourth quarter, amassed 138 yards on the ground (-12 yards for one sack and losses on two fumbles the Tigers recovered).
The LSU defense, using mostly reserves during the fourth quarter, added two more sacks to its ledger and didn't allow the Bulldogs to advance past the LSU 39 the entire second half.
Matt Mauck played the remainder of the fourth quarter at quarterback for LSU and hit two of his four passes. Redshirt freshman Drew Hixon made his first career catch in the waning moments of the game that saw a host of Tigers get their first action against SEC competition. It was a short stint for offensive lineman Kade Comeaux, who was ejected following a personal foul penalty with under a minute to go.
The win gave LSU its second straight SEC road win and ninth victory over Mississippi State in the last ten meetings between the two schools. Bulldogs' head coach Jackie Sherill is now 2-13 against LSU, dating back to his time as head coach at Texas A&M
"Our confidence is so high," said Davey, "we feel like at this point…anywhere we go, whether at home or on the road, we can go and compete with the best of them."