STARKVILLE, MS (WAFB) - "Don't have a heart attack," I texted my father late Saturday night. "He will miss," was my dad's quick reply.
"He" would be Mississippi State senior kicker Devan Bell and well, he did. Bell was wide right on a 52-yard field goal at the gun, as No.14 LSU (1-0, 1-0 SEC) escaped Starkville with a 21-19 win over No. 25 Mississippi State (1-1, 0-1 SEC). It wasn't exactly the best game for dad to watch after a quadruple bypass, but when you think about it, the contest was pretty typical for a Les Miles affair. It was just another one of the head coaches' trademark cliffhangers.
It was a huge LSU win for many reasons. For one, the Tigers were in a tough spot after having their season opener against McNeese State canceled because of the weather. The boisterous crowd of 62,531, the second largest in the history of Davis Wade Stadium, was certainly a challenging atmosphere to deal with. Students flooded into the arena two hours before kickoff and were clanging cowbells loudly all night long. For LSU to open on the road, especially at an SEC venue, is never easy. The Tigers winning in Starkville and grabbing a quick 1-0 conference record simply can't be downplayed.
Second, LSU sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris had never played in a collegiate game start to finish before Saturday. After last season's disastrous start at Auburn, a game LSU lost 41-7, Harris going the distance was a huge step. After all of the problems lining up the team correctly and calling the right plays in Jordan-Hare Stadium, Harris avoided such mistakes against Mississippi State. He didn't turn the ball over and made several nice throws early, which led to a quick 14-0 Tigers lead in the first quarter.
As the season progresses, Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will hopefully have more confidence and trust in Harris. He finished 9-12 passing, but for just 71 yards. As the game wore on, it was obvious the coaching staff feared an interception that could cost LSU the game. Feeding sophomore superstar Leonard Fournette, who racked up a career high 158 yards rushing and three touchdowns, seemed to be a much safer and appropriate option. Still, an occasional first or second down pass play could've helped Harris' cause some.
But as Harris pointed out after the game, Mississippi State senior quarterback Dak Prescott would've gladly traded away his 335 yards passing if it meant the Bulldogs winning.
New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron likewise had victorious LSU debuts. The Tigers were especially salty in the first half, holding State to 109 yards of total offense and stifling the Bulldogs for an 0-7 mark on third down conversions. On one possession in the first half, LSU sacked Prescott twice in three plays, with freshman defensive end Arden Key and sophomore defensive tackle Davon Godchaux doing the honors. It seemed for most of the night, every yard was a major chore for head coach Dan Mullen's Bulldogs.
That was until late in the fourth quarter.
There didn't seem to be much difference in this LSU defense from the late game John Chavis approach fans have vehemently complained about in recent years. Within the blink of an eye, Prescott motored State 82 yards in just six plays to cut the Tigers' lead to 21-19 late. A two-point conversion and potential tying score was open, but Prescott's pass was off the mark.
Moments later, the Bulldogs were playing pitch and catch again. However, it was relatively obvious Mullen didn't have a ton of confidence in his kicker, Bell, and a delay of game penalty before his final field goal attempt was detrimental to State's upset hopes.
It was great to see LSU senior linebacker Deion Jones lead the team in tackles with 12. Jones is a great and personable guy - it's awesome to see him have success. Junior linebacker Kendell Beckwith and junior defensive back Rickey Jefferson were likewise active and popping Bulldogs throughout the evening. Another huge positive was junior defensive end Lewis Neal coming off the edge for a huge quarterback sack in the fourth quarter.
Next up for LSU is the Auburn Tigers this Saturday in Tiger Stadium. The contest is set for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff on WAFB-TV. The cool, crisp, wonderful fall weather we experienced in Starkville isn't expected to be present this weekend. Temperatures could be in the low 90s during this battle of Tigers.