BATON ROUGE, La. -- The 37-17 score was a bit deceiving, as LSU didn't quite have its way with Mississippi State on Saturday night. But the Tigers bounced back from the loss to Alabama with a solid SEC win -- a win that was aided by a second straight big performance from LSU's much-maligned passing game.
Here's how the Tigers celebrated Les Miles' 59th birthday from a chilly Tiger Stadium:
It was over when: LSU safety Craig Loston picked off Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell late in the fourth quarter and raced 100 yards for a touchdown. The full-field pick-six put the Tigers up by 20 points with less than two minutes to play. Loston made the interception in LSU's end zone, where a Mississippi State touchdown would have cut the Tigers' lead to six.
Game ball goes to: LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger followed up his aerial explosion against Alabama with another impressive performance against the Bulldogs. The junior once again showed off the talent LSU fans were hoping for in the offseason by completing 19 of 30 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Mettenberger once again showed great chemistry with sophomore wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who hauled in nine receptions for 109 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown catch.
Game ball, part II: It would be unfair not to recognize a superb effort from Russell, even in a loss. Russell dissected the LSU secondary for 295 yards on 26-of-38 passing. He completed 68 percent of his passes and was essentially mistake-free up until the heartbreaking interception to Loston. Even more impressive was that he carried the load without starting tailback LaDarius Perkins, who left the game early in the first half and did not return. Mississippi State rushed for a measly 47 yards.
Key stat: 154. That number isn't a passing total or a rushing total -- it's the discrepancy between LSU's 273 passing yards and 119 rushing yards. Anyone who has watched the Tigers play in the last two or three years knows that it's a bit unusual to see a Les Miles-coached team lean on the passing game en route to a win. LSU struggled on the ground but made up for it with a dynamic passing effort -- however odd that might be to admit.
Unsung hero: Michael Ford's stat line isn't bound to jump off the page at anyone. He carried once for five yards and had one reception for 27 yards. But he did average nearly 30 yards per return on three kickoff returns -- two of which gave LSU excellent field position on scoring drives. His lone reception was a beautifully-executed screen pass that set the Tigers up on Mississippi State's 4-yard line for an eventual touchdown.
What it means for LSU: The Tigers effectively put the loss to Alabama behind them with a nice, albeit not dominating, win against a ranked opponent. Fans might have been hoping for a more convincing effort, but the Tigers' offense maintained its groove, and the defense did enough -- though Loston's interception made the game look much more lopsided than it was. With Ole Miss and Arkansas remaining, 10-2 is an attainable goal for the end of the season -- which could put LSU into BCS-bowl consideration.
What it means for Mississippi State: There aren't any moral victories in the SEC, but anyone who watched the game knows the Bulldogs put up a much better effort against LSU than they did in their blowout losses to Alabama and Texas A&M. Mississippi State fell behind as much as 20-10 at halftime and 30-17 late in the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs bounced back and were able to keep the Tigers on their toes until the dying minutes, though it still was their third straight loss after a 7-0 start. The final two games, against Arkansas and Ole Miss, are winnable, which would give the Bulldogs good bowl standing.