Fournette returns, No. 20 LSU defeats Miss St., 23-20
Leonard Fournette returned from a bruised left ankle in powerful form, rushing for 147 yards and two touchdowns, and No. 20 LSU withstood a late rally for a 23-20 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday night.
Danny Etling completed 19 of 30 passes for 215 yards in his first start for LSU (2-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference), including a 37-yard touchdown strike to D.J. Chark. But the Tigers nearly squandered a comfortable lead, giving up two touchdowns 4:10 and 3:30 left, the second after the Bulldogs (1-2, 1-1) recovered an onside kick.
Fournette, who sat out last week's victory over Jacksonville State, exhibited his typical mix of hard-nosed and explosive gains. He ran over tacklers for his 5-yard TD and burst into open field for his 25-yard score. He also had four receptions for 27 yards, but his performance was somewhat tarnished by two fumbles, one of which was recovered by the Bulldogs and one of which resulted in a failed fourth-and-short play in MSU territory in the fourth quarter. And it was that turnover on downs that sparked the Bulldogs' late rally with backup Damian Williams at quarterback.
Williams marched the Bulldogs 66 yards in nine plays, then scored MSU's first TD on a 1-yard run.
Two plays after MSU's onside kick recovery at the LSU 32, Williams hit Fred Ross for a 7-yard touchdown.
The Bulldogs then forced a punt after three plays, but Josh Growden's booming, 61-yard boot pinned MSU at its own 23, and Arden Key's second sack of the game forced a fumble that Davon Godchaux recovered to seal the victory.
Nick Fitzgerald, whose 195 yards on the ground against South Carolina a week earlier set a school record for QB rushing, struggled against LSU. He was held to 13 yards rushing and completed 12 of 24 passes for 120 yards. Williams came on in the fourth quarter to convert a fourth-and-4 play with a 24-yard pass to Donald Gray, setting up MSU's first TD.
While Miles had hinted at the possibility of playing both Etling and season-opening starter Brandon Harris at quarterback, Etling was the starter and played the whole game.
Etling didn't hurt his cause by lofting a perfect pass to Chark in the back of the end zone on LSU's second offensive series.
LSU's Colby Delahoussaye kicked a 35-yard field goal that would have made it 10-0, but the Tigers took the points off the board and continued the drive when Mississippi State's Johnathan Calvin was flagged for roughing the kicker. Fournette then rushed for 8 yards on the next play and powered into the end zone from the 5 on the play after that to make it 14-0.
Fournette raced through a big hole into the open field for his 25-yard TD that made it 20-0, and the Tigers led 23-3 at halftime.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs relatively youthful and inexperienced squad needs a little more maturity to beat the top teams in the SEC.
LSU: Fournette is fine, the Tigers' running game is finding its rhythm and Etling is getting more comfortable leading the offense as LSU begins to build momentum.
LSU: The Tigers were favored by about two TDs over Mississippi State, so a close victory won't help them climb much higher in the AP Top 25 Poll.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs travel up to New England to visit Massachusetts next Saturday.
LSU: The Tigers head to the plains of eastern Alabama next Saturday to visit their namesake SEC West rivals, the Auburn Tigers.