Boos rained down from the Tiger Stadium stands, even as quarterback Joe Burrow kneeled to close out No. 5 LSU’s latest convincing victory over a ranked opponent.
It was an unusual scene spawned by an unfortunate play that could carry considerable implications going forward.
Michael Divinity Jr.’s interception set up Nick Brossette’s short touchdown run, Cole Tracy kicked four field goals, and LSU beat No. 22 Mississippi State 19-3 on Saturday night. But the Death Valley crowd left angry after LSU’s top linebacker, Devin White, was ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter, meaning he will not be eligible to play in the first half of the Tigers’ upcoming showdown with unbeaten and top-ranked Alabama.
“As a defense, it is really tough knowing he is going to be out the first half against Alabama,” defensive back Kristian Fulton said.
White appeared to lower his head as he leveled quarterback Nick Fitzgerald a moment after he released a pass that was intercepted by Fulton.
“I’ve got to look at it. The call is the call. They reviewed it,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “That’s the rule. The rule is you can’t lead with your head.”
The targeting penalty wiped out the turnover, and LSU’s celebrations after the whistle also drew two flags for unsportsmanlike conduct, resulting in 45 yards in penalties on one play.
Safety John Battle’s interception prevented Mississippi State from scoring on the drive and virtually sealed the result. But fans continued booing officials until the end, keenly aware of how much the absence of White, even for just a half, could hurt the Tigers (7-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) against the Crimson Tide’s dynamic and prolific offense.
White’s penalty was the low-point of an otherwise banner performance by the Tigers’ defense, which intercepted Fitzgerald four times.
LSU safety Grant Delpit came through with several drive-stalling plays, including two interceptions and a fourth-down sack. Delpit has five interceptions and four sacks this season.
“He made a difference in the ball game when needed him and it looks like it comes easy to him,” Orgeron said. “He’s a great football player.”
Fitzgerald rushed for 131 yards for Mississippi State (4-3, 1-3), but completed just 8 of 24 passes for 59 yards.
“We’ve got to find a way to be productive in the passing game and we did not get that done,” Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said. “I’m in charge of the offense. ... I’m disappointed.”
Mississippi State’s defense, led by end Montez Sweat and tackle Jeffery Simmons, gave LSU’s offense fits for much of the game. LSU needed to run three plays to score the game’s lone TD after Divinity’s 31-yard return to the 3.
“The one touchdown they got was off a short field, so the defense was playing great,” Moorhead said.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs’ inability to pass against LSU’s talented secondary made it tough for them to sustain drives. Although their running game was productive at times finishing with 201 yards, the Bulldogs often looked hopeless on third down, converting two of 14.
LSU: The Tiger’s defense was strong enough against the run to contain Fitzgerald and made the Bulldogs QB uncomfortable when he threw. Offensively, the Tigers needed almost the entire first half to figure out how to move the ball against the Bulldogs. They still struggled to find the end zone in the second half, but executed consistently enough to give their reliable kicker four field goal opportunities from 40 yards and in.
“It wasn’t a perfect game,” Orgeron said. “I’m not going to tear this thing apart. This is a good football team we just beat.”
LSU should move up at least one spot in the AP Top 25 Poll because of No. 2 Ohio State’s 49-20 loss to Purdue .
Burrow blamed himself for the Tigers’ 15 yards of offense before they drove 64 yards for a field goal that made it 10-3 at halftime.
“That was the worst half of football I’ve ever played in my entire life,” said Burrow, who finished 16-of-28 passing for 129 yards and was intercepted in the end zone by Louisiana native Cameron Dantzler in the first quarter, squandering a scoring chance set up by Delpit’s diving interception. “I just threw the ball like a middle schooler, but they’re a really good defense, too.”
Mississippi State hosts Texas A&M on Saturday.
LSU has a week off before hosting Alabama on Nov. 3.