It wasn’t pretty, but the No. 5 LSU football team will enter its open date with a 7-1 record after defeating No. 22 Mississippi State 19-3 Saturday night in a defensive battle that ended with the Tigers wearing down the Bulldogs.
The win didn’t come without a cost, however, and fans booed as the clock hit 0:00 rather than cheer the victory.
Late in the fourth quarter, LSU star linebacker Devin White got called for a targeting penalty that was confirmed after review.
As a result, White will be forced to sit out during the first half of the Tigers’ highly anticipated game against No. 1 Alabama.
“I just have to look at it,” said LSU coach Ed Orgeron after the game. “The call is the call. They said that they reviewed it and it was definitely targeting. I did not see anything that would suggest either way.”
As to whether the call that led the fans in Tiger Stadium to jeer and chant at the officials for the final five minutes of the game without much reprieve put a damper on the win, Orgeron was very clear with his answer: Absolutely not.
“We’re glad we won,” Orgeron said. “We’re happy we won. We just beat Mississippi State 19-3.”
White wasn’t made available to talk to the media, but LSU linebacker Michael Divinity said he was all smiles after the game.
“He was happy,” Divinity said. “He wasn’t down about it. We just have to move forward and focus on this win right now. When the time comes, we’ll fix that situation.
“He’s never down. He’s always up and smiling. He’s a playful guy.”
— DEVIN WHITE 4️⃣0️⃣ (@DevinWhite__40) October 21, 2018
As for everything leading up to the immediately inconsequential play that will have dire consequences in two weeks, LSU had to wear the Bulldogs down and chip away at the defense before building a comfortable lead.
Despite struggling with its worst offensive first of the season to this point, the Tigers relied on its defense to take a touchdown lead into the halftime break.
After starting the opening drive of the game with back-to-back false start penalties, Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald threw a third-down interception to Michael Divinity, who returned the ball to the MSU 3 yard line before going out of bounds.
Divinity finished the game with four tackles, including a tackle for a 1-yard loss and a pass break up.
“Things went well tonight,” Divinity said. “I couldn’t pass rush, but being able to play the run, and the whole defense playing the run and executing what we’ve been practicing this whole week. I give a big shout out to this whole defense.”
Three plays later, LSU running back Nick Brossette powered his way into the end zone from a yard out to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes of the contest.
That’s about as much success as the Tigers would have on offense for the remainder of the half.
After going three-and-out on its next two possession — which gave the Bulldogs time to cut LSU’s lead to 7-3 with a field goal after driving to within three yards of the Tigers’ end zone — it looked as if the defense had given the offense another easy score as Grant Delpit picked off his fourth pass of the season to give LSU the ball on MSU’s 24-yard line.
That was the first of two interceptions from Delpit, the second of which wrapped the game up as he picked one off in the final minute of the game.
Delpit led the Tigers with 10 tackles and an 8-yard sack to go along with his two picks. He got a little bit cheeky during post-game interviews when asked what he saw on his interception when he responded “which one”?
“He was looking at the receiver the whole time,” Delpit said of his first interception. “I just made a break on the ball.”
MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald struggled to find a rhythm all night, as he finished the game completing 8 of 24 passes with four interceptions, and four of those completions came on the final drive of the game with LSU playing back on defense.
He finished the night with 59 passing yards and 131 rushing yards on 23 carries on a night in which his offense never got into the end zone.
After LSU quarterback Joe Burrow hit Dee Anderson for a nine-yard gain followed by a 7-yard rush by Brossette for the Tigers’ only first down of the quarter, Burrow threw an interception to Cam Dantzler, stopping the potential scoring drive in its tracks.
From there, the game turned into a field possession battle for the remainder of the half, which LSU slowly began losing grip of.
Fortunately for the Tigers, the defense held its own against Fitzgerald’s rush attack because LSU had just 15 yards of total offense when it started its final drive of the half with less than four minutes remaining.
Burrow and the Tigers finally found their footing offensively, and drove 64 yards on 15 plays before Cole Tracy kicked a 25-yard field goal to take a 10-3 lead into the break.
Despite the long drive, MSU finished the half with 144 yards of total offense to LSU’s 79 yards. The Tigers’ best statistic came on third downs, as the Bulldogs converted on just 1 of 9 third downs in the half, while LSU converted 5 of 11.
The Bulldogs went on to convert just 2 of 14 third down attempts.
“I thought our defense played lights out,” Orgeron said. “Great job by Dave Aranda and our staff. Nick Fitzgeral is an excellent football player. This team is a good team that we beat tonight.”
Burrow and the offense seemed to carry its momentum into the second half as they drove the ball effectively until they stalled at the MSU 20, allowing Tracy to extend the Tigers’ lead to 13-3 with a 38-yard field goal.
After the defense forced a turnover on downs at the LSU 45, the Tigers once again put together a scoring drive as they went 44 yards on nine plays to set up another Tracy field goal, this one from 29 yards out.
Tracy added a bit of icing to the cake early in the fourth quarter when he kicked one more 40-yard field goal to make it 4 for 4 during the game and extend LSU’s lead to the eventual final of 19-3.
With reporters relentlessly trying ask about potential replacements for White against Alabama and how long the Tigers will rest before getting ready for the Crimson Tide, Orgeron made it very clear those were questions for a later date.
“Can we enjoy this one first?” Orgeron asked. “Then maybe I’ll give you the game plan on Tuesday.”