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LSU defense, Max Johnson key victory over Mississippi State

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LSU and Mississippi State had a shootout when they met in the 2020 season-opener in Tiger Stadium.https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.481.0_en.html#goog_297415800The rematch in their 2021 SEC opener was much different Saturday afternoon in Starkville, Miss.

Max Johnson threw 4 touchdown passes for the Tigers, but he had to share the spotlight with his defense in a closer-than-necessary 28-25 victory.

LSU (3-1), which played without All-America cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (foot), kept the Bulldogs (2-2) out of the end zone until Will Rogers threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Makai Polk with 26 seconds left in the third quarter. That score merely cut the Tigers lead to 21-10 entering the fourth quarter of what became their third consecutive victory.

Johnson and Kayshon Boutte connected on 2 more touchdown passes, giving them 8 in 4 games this season.

It was clear in the first half that this game was going to have a different personality than State’s 44-34 win in which it passed for an SEC-record 623 yards and 5 touchdowns last September.

Neither team could generate consistent offense early Saturday. LSU wasn’t plagued by the blown assignments and missed tackles that it had last season, and the State defense smothered the Tigers’ running game and pressured Johnson consistently – at least for a half.

The Tigers scored a touchdown on their first possession of the game and that held up for a 7-3 halftime lead.

Things changed quickly after halftime. On the second play from scrimmage, Johnson and Boutte connected on a 64-yard touchdown pass.

The Bulldogs had a chance to respond when they drove to the Tigers 15 on the ensuing possession, but Rogers threw incompletions on 2nd and 3rd down, and Nolan McCord missed a 33-yard field goal.

Johnson threw a 58-yard touchdown to Trey Palmer to increase the lead to 21-3 late in the third quarter. That gave Johnson his 6th game with at least 3 touchdown passes in as many career starts.

After State’s touchdown, Johnson made it 4 touchdowns with a 41-yard pass to Kole Taylor that increased the lead to 28-10 with 11:32 left.

State added a TD on a short throw from Rogers to Austin Williams to make it 28-17 with 6:48 left. And then scored again with 1:53 for the final margin, but it was too little, too late.

Rogers finished with more than 370 yards passing and 3 TDs, which looked better on paper than it did in reality on a day LSU’s defense dictated the outcome.

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