BATON ROUGE, La. – Zach Mettenberger rifled accurate passes over the middle, lofted timing throws down the sideline and demonstrated for a second straight week that LSU could indeed move the ball through the air.
Mettenberger passed for 273 yards and two touchdowns, and No. 9 LSU kept alive faint hope of a Southeastern Conference title with a 37-17 victory over No. 23 Mississippi State on Saturday night.
"He's at a hot streak right now. I think that's something Zach and the fans and really everybody have been waiting on all season," LSU center P.J. Lonergan said. "It's good to finally see him get in that rhythm."
One week after passing for a career-high 298 yards in a narrow loss to Alabama, Mettenberger completed 19 of 30 passes without an interception against the Bulldogs. His top target was sophomore Jarvis Landry, who had nine catches for 109 yards — both career highs — including a 19-yard touchdown to help the Tigers (8-2, 4-2 SEC) beat the Bulldogs (7-3, 3-3) 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 got touchdowns from fullback J.C. Copeland on a 1-yard plunge and safety Craig Loston on a 100-yard interception return in the final minutes.
Tyler 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.
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.
"We felt some of their players were pretty good at rushing the passer, so we did some things to get the ball out quick and it was effective," said Russell, who found Bumphis nine times for 140 yards. "Unfortunately they made more plays than we did. ... Sometimes you can fight as hard as you want and still not win the game."
Bulldogs leading rusher LaDarius Perkins was held out of the game. Mississippi State coach Dan 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.
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 kept LSU alive in the SEC West. 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.
While the Death Valley crowd was energized by the Bama result, the Tigers' defense apparently was not.
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 responded by driving deep into Bulldogs territory, before Miles, who had several gambles fail a week earlier against Alabama, elected to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 11.
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.
"Jarvis Landry will have nights like this routinely," Miles said. "You watch him tonight. That's what he looks like in practice. ... It's a career night now maybe because it's early in his career."
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 a touchdown to Ware, who made a diving catch.
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 Chad Bumphis.
That was as close as the Bulldogs would get, though, as the Tigers scored the next 17 points on Drew Alleman's 41-yard field goal and the touchdowns by Copeland and Loston.