BATON ROUGE, La. – Les Miles was disappointed, not surprised.
After a pair of dramatic victories over Tennessee and Florida, the coach suspected ninth-ranked LSU might have a tough time recharging for heavy underdog McNeese State.
"I didn't think we played with a lot of emotion," Miles said after LSU took a 32-10 victory over the Cowboys on Saturday night that, for much of the contest, was closer than the final score indicated.
"If you look in college football, you can see that there's some other teams that played emotional games the week before and didn't quite play their best" this week, Miles said, referring to losses Saturday by South Carolina and Florida. "Maybe the timing was right for us to play McNeese and play as poorly as we did and win."
LSU (7-0) needed a pair of touchdowns from Stevan Ridley to take its first lead, then Michael Ford added the first two scoring runs of his career in the second half as Tigers eventually wore down feisty McNeese.
They'll need a much better performance next week against No. 7 Auburn, and the fans in Tiger Stadium seemed to be making that very point by booing more than once.
"If your going to be a great team stuff like tonight can't happen," LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee said. "You have to be focused in each game and every opponent you play. We prepared hard and looked forward to this game. McNeese is an in-state game and they came in here and got after us pretty well, but we came away with a win. ... Now on to Auburn."
The Cowboys (2-4), who play in the Football Championship Subdivision, repeatedly frustrated LSU's offense and remained as close as a touchdown until late in the third quarter. Lee and Jordan Jefferson combined for only 103 yards passing, with Lee leading all four TD drives.
"We've got to throw the football better. It's just that simple," Miles said. "We've got to get into a rhythm better there. I don't think it really made any difference which quarterback it was."
McNeese State led twice in the first half before Ridley's second TD on a tackle-breaking, 10-yard run in the second quarter put LSU up for good at 14-10.
Ridley's other score was a 2-yard plunge on fourth-and-1, which LSU needed to tie the game late in the first quarter. Ford, who finished with 86 yards rushing, scored from 6 and 36 yards, the second coming with 1:12 to go.
LSU finished with 179 yards rushing.
Traveling from Lake Charles, about a 2-hour drive west of Baton Rouge, McNeese was making its first appearance in Tiger Stadium in what was also its first meeting with LSU.
The Cowboys did not seem intimidated, stopping LSU's opening series and then converting a fake punt on their first possession.
With quarterback Jacob Bower recovering from a concussion the previous weekend, McNeese coach Matt Viator gave redshirt freshman Cody Stroud his first career start against a top-10 team on the road. Stroud responded by going 15 of 32 for 118 yards and a short touchdown pass to Damion Dixon that gave the Cowboys an early 7-0 lead.
Stroud also set up a field goal with a 22-yard scramble.
McNeese State didn't have to drive far for either score; both were set up by LSU turnovers.
The Cowboys sacked and stripped Jefferson on the LSU 5 to set up the first TD. Later, a fluky bounce on a short McNeese punt sent the ball deflecting off of LSU's Spencer Ware as he tried to block for the return, and McNeese recovered at the LSU 41 to open a drive that ended with Josh Lewis' 23-yard field goal.
"When you play LSU and you play against these guys, the thing that is really hard to beat is their defense and their special teams," Viator said. "That is what they have been winning with all year. They're very good on defense and their special teams are very good."
After Ridley's second TD put LSU in front, Drake Nevis' tackled running back Andre Anderson in the end zone for a safety made it 16-10. That score stood at halftime after Josh Jasper uncharacteristically missed a 32-yard field goal attempt.
LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne had an interception, which he returned 29 yards and led to one of Ford's TDs.
Fellow Tigers cornerback and return specialist Patrick Peterson had a 45-yard return of a high, short kickoff in the first quarter, which set up LSU's first score. He also had a 34-yard punt return.
"We actually tried to kick it away from Patrick Peterson tonight," Viator said. "We missed one time, but then (another time) he just ran over the top of somebody and just took off."