Big-play touchdowns allow LSU football to hold off Mississippi State in SEC opener

Andy Kostka
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

STARKVILLE, Miss. — While Mississippi State defensive backs Fred Peters and Emmanuel Forbes laid sprawled out on the turf, LSU tight end Kole Taylor ran free.

The Tigers receiver had snagged a third-down pass, turned up field and broke loose once Forbes and Peters collided, part of a disastrous sequence for the Bulldogs. But Forbes and Peters shouldn’t have even been on the field.

The Mississippi State (2-2, 0-1 SEC) defense had forced a key third-down stop moments earlier, yet they were thrown back into action because Rodney Groce was flagged for a personal foul on the ensuing punt. Given another opportunity, LSU (3-1, 1-0) created another big-play touchdown — one of three in Saturday’s 28-25 win over the Bulldogs.

INJURY:Mississippi State's Emmanuel Forbes carted off the field with injury vs. LSU football

WATCH:LSU cornerback Cordale Flott's high-flying interception vs. Mississippi State football

But perhaps the biggest loss on the play was Forbes, who stayed down well after Taylor crossed into the end zone. The sophomore, who added another interception to his count in the second quarter, required a cart to take him off the field, a large blow for a defense that has been a bright spot for the Bulldogs beyond the occasional breakdown.

With an offense that struggled to cap long drives with points early, though, those occasional breakdowns loomed large Saturday, giving Mississippi State its second straight defeat despite a late comeback bid.

Return of the big play

As the ball floated in the air, Mississippi State’s Shawn Preston and Collin Duncan looked at each other, raising their arms, pointing to the wide open LSU receiver.

Pointing wouldn’t make up any of the lost ground. Wideout Trey Palmer could wait for Max Johnson’s throw, catching it and backpedaling into the end zone to give the Tigers a three-score lead in the third quarter.

That 58-yard touchdown was one of three long-distance scores. When the defense bit on a play-action fake, wide receiver Kayshon Boutte took a slant pass 64 yards to the house. And Taylor’s 41-yard score late put the game away.

Early giveaways

For the second straight week, Mississippi State’s offense got off on the wrong foot. Last week, running back Jo’quavious Marks fumbled on the opening drive, setting up Memphis’ 49-yard scoop-and-score.

After nine plays Saturday, it was wide receiver Malik Heath’s turn to cough up the football. Heath fumbled after a big hit from LSU’s Cordale Flott, setting up Damone Clark’s 35-yard return to the Bulldogs’ 30.

The Tigers converted a short-yardage fourth down before quarterback Max Johnson evaded safety Jalen Green’s pressure on a third-and-9 to find Kayshon Boutte for an 11-yard touchdown pass.

Mississippi State drove late in the first quarter, too, reaching LSU’s 30-yard line. But Rogers tossed his second interception of the season. He underthrew Christian Ford on a corner route despite having wideout Makai Polk open in the end zone on the other side of the field. Flott rose up, grabbing the ball at the Tigers’ 11 to derail another Bulldogs drive.

Stalling offense

Mississippi State’s offense showed more signs of life toward the end of the second quarter, with an 80-yard, 14-play drive marching deep into LSU’s red zone. But when the Bulldogs needed a play, they faltered.

Coach Mike Leach opted to run the ball on third-and-goal from the 2, and while Marks had been chewing up yardage on the ground, the Tigers were ready for it.

Last week, when the Bulldogs lost to Memphis, Leach opted to go for it on fourth-and-goal; the call didn’t work. So Mississippi State settled for a 23-yard field goal from Nolan McCord, the lone points on the board in the opening 30 minutes of action.

Mississippi State gained 205 yards compared to LSU’s 113 in the first half. But the Tigers switched to a four-man defensive front in the red zone, and the adjustment clogged up the middle and stymied Leach’s squad.

The four-man front worked again to begin the second quarter, stalling another 14-play drive. That time, McCord missed the 33-yarder, leaving Mississippi State with nothing to show for a bevy of yards.

Mississippi State pushed late, with Rogers throwing late scores to Malik Heath and Austin Williams. But those early missed chances left the Bulldogs short at the end.