As Tyler Russell watched LSU's Craig Loston race by on a 100-yard interception return, he and the rest of the Mississippi State Bulldogs saw their faint hope of a Southeastern Conference title fade away.
Statistically, Russell had one of the best games of his career in Tiger Stadium, but the No. 23 Bulldogs simply could not keep pace with the ninth-ranked Tigers, who pulled away for a 37-17 victory on Saturday night.
"Unfortunately they made more plays than we did," Russell said. "Sometimes you can fight as hard as you want and still not win the game."
Russell completed a career-high 26 passes on 38 attempts for a career-high 295 yards and a touchdown to Chad Bumphis that got the Bulldogs as close as field goal early in the third quarter before they faded in their third straight loss, all against ranked teams in the SEC.
"That's what separates this conference from other conferences," Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said. "So that's what you sign on for. ... You want to play against the best and that's what you have here in the Southeastern Conference."
The Bulldogs had trouble slowing down Zach Mettenberger, who followed up his career-high 298-yard performance in a close loss to No. 1 Alabama a week earlier with another sharp outing.
Mettenberger was 19 of 30 for 273 yards and two touchdowns without an interception against the Bulldogs (7-3, 3-3 SEC), who fell to LSU (8-2, 4-2) for the 13th straight time.
"I think it is just everybody on the offense just maturing. We are really young in the receiving corps," Mettenberger said. "They are starting to know their assignments and are running better routes. That is all I can ask. If we can continue to keep clicking like this there are going to be big games for everybody like what Jarvis had tonight."
Mettenberger's other scoring pass went to Spencer Ware, who made a diving catch on a 20-yard timing throw down the right sideline.
"Our passing game obviously is coming," LSU coach Les Miles said. "Zach is playing extremely well. He's got a nice touch on the ball. I think he knows where he needs to go. He's making quality decisions."
The Tigers also a got touchdown from fullback J.C. Copeland on a 1-yard plunge.
LSU's defense shut out Mississippi State during the last 27:52, during which Tigers defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo each sacked Russell and Loston made his interception.
Bulldogs leading rusher LaDarius Perkins was held out of the game. Mullen said Perkins strained his quad on Wednesday but still warmed up in hopes of playing before coaches decided against playing him.
"He wanted to go but we made the decision not to let him go tonight," Mullen said
Mississippi State wound up with only 47 yards rushing, but Mullen chalked much of that up to play calling after his team fell behind.
"We were kind of in a position to have to throw," Mullen said. "We weren't as balanced obviously as you'd like to be but obviously that happens" when trying to come back.
Although they did not score as often as they needed to, the Bulldogs moved the ball as Russell found Bumphis nine times for 140 yards.
One of the loudest cheers of the night came when Alabama's loss to Texas A&M was announced during the first quarter — a result that meant the winner between the Tigers and Bulldogs would remain alive in the SEC West.
Now the Bulldogs are out of the running, while LSU's only hope is to finish in a three-way tie in league play with the Crimson Tide (9-1, 6-1), and Aggies (8-2, 5-2). However, that would require a shocking victory by downtrodden Auburn over Alabama in the Iron Bowl in two weeks.
The Bulldogs' opening drive went 74 yards on 10 plays, with Russell completing five of six throws before spot substitute QB Dak Prescott — a Louisiana native — found Marcus Green for a 9-yard score to make it 7-0.
LSU got its first big break when Derrick Milton mishandled a pitch and Lamin Barrow recovered inside the Bulldogs' 25. That set up Mettenberger's scoring strike to Landry over the middle to give LSU its first lead at 13-7.
Devon Bell's career-long 47-yard field goal pulled the Bulldogs to 13-10 inside the last minute before halftime, but the 48 seconds remaining proved more than enough for Mettenberger to respond. He quickly strung together completions of 15, 36 and 20 yards, the last for Ware's TD.
The quick score gave LSU a 20-10 lead and looked like a crushing blow, but Odell Beckham Jr.'s fumbled punt early in the third quarter gave the Bulldogs the ball at the LSU 29 and they promptly cashed in, pulling to 20-17 on Russell's 14-yard scoring pass to Bumphis.
That was as close as the Bulldogs would get.