LSU football delivers emphatic comeback win over Mississippi State, Brian Kelly's first in SEC
BATON ROUGE - The drive of the game came with 12 minutes, 54 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
LSU football led by a point and had struggled to maintain drives. But a 14-play, 85-yard drive – which included three third-down conversions and one on fourth down – gave the Tigers a touchdown and a commanding eight-point lead.
It was the key score in the Tigers' emphatic 31-16 win over Mississippi State to give coach Brian Kelly his first win in SEC play.
LSU (2-1, 1-0 SEC) forced a three-and-out on the next drive, then scored a touchdown on a 47-yard run from Armoni Goodwin to make it a 15-point lead over MSU (2-1, 0-1).
The Tigers' offense struggled early but the defense kept it in the game. Three turnovers on downs and constant pressure from LSU's front seven on MSU quarterback Will Rogers allowed LSU to make it 13-7 at halftime.
Once the offense found its rhythm, the Tigers pulled away. A muffed punt at the end of the third quarter gave LSU the ball at the Mississippi State 9-yard line and turned into a touchdown.
A stellar defensive performance for LSU
When the offense sputtered, LSU's defense excelled.
The Tigers were effective in changing up looks schematically and sent well-timed pressures that helped lead to four sacks through three quarters. The LSU secondary forced Rogers to hold on to the ball longer than usual in Mike Leach's air raid offense.
LSU allowed two long runs to Dillon Johnson (35 yards) and Jo'quavious Marks (37 yards for a touchdown) in the first half, but other than that did a good job of limiting big plays.
Cleaning up LSU's offensive mistakes, tempo
It would have been hard for LSU to have an uglier start on offense.
On its first six drives, the Tigers had five punts and a fumble inside the Mississippi State 30.
LSU's offensive line also had four false starts and quarterback Jayden Daniels finished the half completing 9 of 13 passes for 64 yards. Daniels struggled to make quick decisions and bailed out of the pocket as a runner too often.
The Tigers didn't score until the final minute of the first half once it could play with some tempo. But even on that drive, Daniels reverted to being a runner too quickly on multiple occasions.
However, LSU maintained that quick pace into the second half and got three points on its first drive. And even though it didn't score again in the quarter, LSU extended drives to help its defense rest on the sidelines.
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An uneven offensive line performance
LSU entered Saturday with its third starting offensive line in three games. With Anthony Bradford in sweatpants, freshman Emery Jones got the start at right tackle while redshirt sophomore Miles Frazier moved to right guard.
In pass protection, the Tigers mostly held up. Despite playing freshmen at both tackle spots, Daniels consistently had time to survey the field.
But the front had trouble creating any holes in the running game along with the false start penalties.
LSU's running backs finished the third quarter with only 22 rushing yards with a chunk of those attempts in the first half coming on first down. The first down rushes put the Tigers in less than ideal down and distances on second and third down and was a driving reason behind their first-half struggles on that side of the ball.
Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser and the USA TODAY Sports South Region. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @KokiRiley.