Tigers Turn Back State For 30-26 Win

Morning downpours didn't keep the sixth-largest crowd ever at Davis Wade Stadium from attending the annual meeting of Mississippi and Louisiana state universities. The 53,612 wading inside were rewarded with the most competitive contest of these SEC rivals since 2000. Sadly for the Bulldogs though, the outcome was no different than the previous nine as LSU took a 30-26 decision on Scott Field.

LSU's defense, tested all day by a newly-balanced Bulldog attack, gave lots of ground but not the eight inches that mattered most. Because on third and fourth downs from that distance the Tigers were able to reject a pass try for touchdown, then bring down QB Tyson Lee for no gain and preserve their margin of victory. LSU left Starkville undefeated (4-0, 2-0 SEC) and with #7 national ranking intact, while Mississippi State fell to 2-2, 1-2 SEC.

Mississippi State won the toss and chose to play defense, which worked well initially as LSU's Charles Scott was stopped short on third down. The ball came loose but officially after the tackle, so the Tigers had to punt it away. It proved an effecitive ‘offensive' play however.

Because on first down from the 27-yard line Lee rolled left and fired for RB Christian Ducre. The throw went off both hands and into the waiting paws of cornerback Patrick Peterson for an unchallenged 37-yard return at 12:47. The PAT snap was bobbled so it was just a 6-0 lead.

A celebration penalty had LSU kicking off from their 15-yard line so State was able to get a return from Wade Bonner out to the 34. On second down the Dogs were confused and had to use a timeout, but it was well-spent on a call to throw to TE Marcus Green. He reversed the field getting to LSU's 34, a gain of 32 yards. On 3rd-and-5 Dixon countered through center for eight yards and first down, in the process becoming the second-leading rusher in MSU history.

Lee checked off on 3rd-and-3 and RB Arnil Stallworth stumbled for just enough gain to move the chains to LSU's 12-1/2. State went tricky with a reverse-option pass by WR Chad Bumphis, who had himself to reverse field again. He might have run on in himself but threw for Lee in the end zone who was interfered with. With the ball spotted on the two it was a classic wishbone call by coordinator Les Koenning, with Dixon taking the pitch and going behind Ducre's block before hurdling Tier corner Chris Hawkins at the goal for touchdown at 7:14. Sean Brauchle's PAT was good for a 7-6 State lead.

It didn't last four minutes. A good return by Trindon Holliday had LSU starting on their 34 again, and needing a yard running QB Russell Shepard got seven to midfield. Back at QB, Jordan Jefferson went deep where Terrence Toliver had inside position on CB Marcus Washington. The 40-yard gainer made it first-and-goal. On third down with blitzing FS Zach Smith in his face Jefferson unloaded to the end zone.

LaFell was behind both coverage and another receiver, running under the ball at 3:45 to put the Tigers back ahead, 13-7 after a good PAT.

Starting at the 26, Lee threw to Bumphis and kept himself for 13 combined yards and move of sticks. But he was fortunate not to have one of two batted passes picked and P Heath Hutchins was summoned the first time and was fair-caught at the Tiger 25. LB Jamar Chaney nearly had a pick of the passer on second down and despite just rushing three the Dogs got enough pressure to force an incompletion.

Now it was the Tiger turn for disaster, as the punt snap sailed. Derek Helton ran it down at the five but should have kept going into the end zone for safety. Because Tay Bowser tackled him at the one-yard line, and out of a wishbone again Dixon squirmed across the stripe at 0:41. This made the senior the school's all-time scoring leader with 222 career points. And the kick staked State to a 14-13 lead after an entertaining quarter.

LSU began the new period by working the left side of State coverage, or lack thereof, for completions of 12 and 18 yards. Then the Tigers kicked into reverse with a 11-yard sack by Chaney of Jefferson and a delay penalty. Still it took a slight over-throw of LaFell down the same (MSU) left sideline to bring a punt. A modest one, rolling out at State's 34.

But Lee gave it back as he under-threw for WR O'Neal Wilder and LSU's Hawkins was able to make the easy pick at his 19-yard line. The Tigers couldn't take advantage and Helton punted much better this time, 44 yards to State's 22.

Where, the Bulldogs handed it right back over on a Stallworth fumble recovered by Drake Nevis at the State 25. LSU let Shepard take the first two snaps himself and it produced first-and-goal at the ten. With third down at the Bulldog five, Shepard let himself get strung-out and the late pitch to Williams netted nothing. Josh Jasper chipped the 22-yard field goal through at 6:16 for another change of lead.

QB Chris Relf made his first appearance on the ensuing series but after Dixon muscled for a first down Relf was shaken up on a pitch play that lost six yards anyway. This time punting was a positive play for State as Hutchins got it off cleanly before being roughed by Peterson. It got State back in business on the Tiger 43-yard line for a while. Soon it was 4th-and-5 and State took a chance with Lee rolling left. His throw was behind Wilder and intercepted by Brandon Taylor at the 17-yard line…better at least than a punt into the end zone.

All the more so when on 3rd-and-short LSU tried a deep pitch that LB K.J. Wright read, nailing Williams for loss of six yards. State used the last timeout at 1:40, but when Helton crushed his punt for 59 yards the goal was 67 yards away.

Lee was able to work the left side for completions of seven (Brandon McRae) and nine (Berry) yards, then found Berry crossing the middle for a good catch and better gain of 23 yards down to the Tiger 35 at 0:53. With 13 ticks left and fourth down Brauchle was summoned for a 49-yard field goal try…which LSU made 43 by jumping offsides. But it was State's turn to botch a kicking play as the snap was dropped and Chris Cameron dragged down. So it was still 16-14 favor of LSU at intermission. Offense was even more even as LSU had run one more offensive play, but the Bulldogs had a yardage edge of 122 to 115.

State had first turn in the second half and made nothing of it, losing seven yards instead. Hutchins also left the punt low so LSU took over at their 42. It took all of one play to change the game as CB Damein Anderson simply lost LaFell posting right-to-left for an easy open catch and jog into the end zone at 13:30. For the first time it was a two-score margin at 23-14 Tigers just 90 seconds into the period.

Starting again from their 36 after another solid Berry return, Dixon blasted for six and nine yards across midfield. But on 3rd-and-8 Lee had to rush the snap and fumbled it, forcing another MSU punt angled and fair-caught at the 19. LSU kicked it right back after on 3rd-and-short Wright blitzed Jefferson into an unload.

Again Dixon got a first down, and a throw to Green left State inches short on third down. Instead of a Dixon dive though, Koenning took a big chance. It almost misfired as Lee had to scramble for his life and to his left, which might have been why the heave hung a bit. But LSU's coverage of Green arrived just late enough that the tight end could make the catch at the 31 and run untouched the rest of the way. The touchdown and kick at 6:33 had the Dogs back within 23-21.

A 42-yard kickoff return by Holliday to midfield took some edge off MSU's emotions. Then on second down R.J. Jackson tipped Jefferson's pass, caught his own carom, and got down to the Bulldog seven-yard line. Two incompletes later Jefferson's draw got to the two where the Tigers opted to kick for three. Except once again the hold was poor and Jasper shanked the 19-yarder leftward.

A generous spot on 3rd-and-1 gave Dixon one first down, then a nine-yard slam another. He made it 3rd-and-1 again but had to come out and Ducre lost ground. Facing 4th-and-3 at the 50-yard stripe as the last quarter began, the Bulldogs opted not to gamble but punted. Hutchins did just as directed, pooping a high hanger over to the right corner where Chad Jones fielded on the bounce at the seven-yard line with two tacklers bearing down fast.

Maybe too fast because while FS Smith did get a right arm on Jones the Tiger spun off, then changed back towards middle-field. Ducre was blocked off and suddenly Jones had both room and an angled wall that let him get all the way to the other sideline and dash down it. Anderson had the last chance at State's 15 and missed as Jones netted a day-turning 93-yard touchdown return. The renewed nine-point margin would make all the fourth-quarter difference in how things developed.

Relf, who hadn't seen the field since halftime, got this series. He also got lucky as on third down under pressure he side-arm slung it downfield for Wilder and the covering defensive back timed his jump wrong. Wilder was able to make 46 yards to the Tiger 21. Lee returned and netted another first down before another gadget play—Bumphis taking the pitch and rolling right, looking for Dixon in the end zone, was broken up. Brauchle was good from 22 yards to shave three points off the Dog deficit at 10:13.

LSU was able to advance to State's 44 but burn only two minutes before punting. State's problem was they couldn't get a true drive going either and gave the ball back at inside six minutes. Set back inside their ten, LSU did the Dogs a favor by throwing on third down incomplete to save some time. Thus when State regained possession at the 50, again, the clock still had 3:53 and Coach Dan Mullen all his timeouts.

The offensive staff changed approach this series, letting Ducre take the initial carries so Dixon could rest for crunch time. It worked with Ducre punching out 12 yards twice, then Dixon returning for a 18-yard sweep that might have made the end zone had Harry Coleman not knocked him out at the two-yard line with 1:29 left. When Dixon got half the needed ground on first snap the Tigers, allowing for a touchdown, used a timeout. And again after Dixon was brought down, arm on the goal line but ball clearly half-its-length shy on second down.

The whole house figured what was coming on 3rd-and-inches and State tried deception. Out of the wishbone Lee took a quick drop and flipped straight-ahead where TE Green was waiting all by his lonesome in the end zone. Trouble was, first Lee neither jumped to make the throw nor put any loft on it; second, safety Jones timed his leap to bat the ball away. That left one play to win or lose the day.

Again in the wishbone Lee took a step left—the wide side—and stuck the ball in fullback Patrick Hanrahan's gut before pulling it back as planned. But that end of the line was caving in already; and instead of continuing leftward and pitching to Dixon much like the first Dog touchdown, Lee kept and tried squirming between center and guard. What seam there seemed to be vanished, along with State's seeming sure shot at success.

The saved timeouts allowed Mullen to force a punt and get the ball with 46 ticks left and 68 yards to cover. Four passes failed to gain anything, Lee's last chance heave for Wilder was into triple-coverage with no chance.

The stat sheet made for confusing reading, as State led in yardage 374-263, had a nearly-eight-minute edge in possession time with 21 first downs to 12, converted on eight third downs to the Tigers' two, and on and on. Most startling was holding LSU to only 30 net rushing yards. The total yards and 26 points were most by State against a Tiger team since 2000.

Yet it was Tiger ability to take advantage of just a couple of timely opportunities in the passing and return game that offset all those negative numbers. And, the Dogs throwing three interceptions while losing a fumble. Jefferson tossed a career-best 233 yards with completions of 58, 40, and 39 yards; and for another season LaFell abused MSU coverage as he caught six balls for 101 yards and two scores.

Lee did throw for 172 yards to his own team including a career-long 50-yarder to Green; while Relf's lone pass of the day was good for 46 yards. Dixon produced a 11th career 100-yard day with 106 total gains and the two scores, notching those aforementioned records.

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