NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - It was the type of game that LSU fans are more than used to by now. The Tigers beat Mississippi State 23-20, but after racing out to a 23-3 lead in the first half, should have ever been that close?
Regardless of how you answer that question, it's a win for LSU and in their current position, they'll take them however they can. Let's break down the good and the bad via first downs and fumbles.
QB Danny Etling:
He followed up his mid-game entrance and win over Jacksonville State with one of the most poised performances Tiger fans have seen from their QB in years. While his first half numbers were much better than his second, Etling finished completing 19 of 30 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown. But what those basic statistics don't tell you is how cool he was under pressure.
Whether he was directing receivers down field or simply demonstrating the patience to get to his check down and move the chains, Etling played as good of a game as you could ask for someone making their first real start in Tiger Stadium.
WR Malachi Dupre:
The Tigers' junior wide receiver responded to a week of criticism with a team-high 54 yards receiving, including a pair of third down catches to keep LSU driving (both of those third down catches led to LSU touchdowns later in the drive).
He also seemed to benefit from playing more in the slot, as Les Miles and Cam Cameron moved Dupre, Travin Dural and D.J. Chark around a bit.
LB Arden Key:
The Tigers totaled five sacks on the night, and Key had the biggest of them all on Mississippi State's final offensive possession. The Bulldogs had all of the momentum after two touchdowns less than a minute apart. They had one timeout and more than enough time to drive on LSU for a third straight score to tie or win the game. But Arden Key and the defense clamped down to preserve the win.
RB Leonard Fournette:
I can't write a "first downs and fumbles" story without listing the guy with two turnovers under the fumbles category. The return of Fournette began on a high note with two first half touchdowns and the final stat line wasn't bad either. He finished with 147 yards on 28 carries and the two scores. But his bad handling of the football kept the Bulldogs in the game and more than likely took points off the board for LSU.
As Les Miles said, if they pick up the fourth down late in the fourth quarter, it's a walk in the park from there. Instead, Mississippi State turned that turnover into points, twice.
Defensively, I don't knock the Tigers much for giving up the points late. They fell victim to momentum and a new quarterback look from Damian Williams. Turnovers from the offense kept the Tigers from slamming the door on the game when they could have.
Miles said the rocky finish is a lesson that they'll take with them to Auburn. It was a game that many had pegged as an "easy" LSU win, but at this point, the Tigers can't afford to take anything for granted.