It would be preferable to look at LSU's 21-19 win over Mississippi State on Saturday through the prism of the team's respective stars. For LSU, Leonard Fournette ran the ball 28 times for 159 yards and three touchdowns, putting together the kind of numbers that Tigers fans first imagined when he came to campus as freshman phenom last year. And for the Bulldogs, Dak Prescott was 34-of-52 passing for 335 yards and a touchdown, the numbers not quite capturing how easily he sliced through the LSU secondary during the last two drives of the night that almost won the game for Mississippi State.
But, this being a game between Les Miles and Dan Mullen, it was almost inevitable that last-minute decision making and play-calling were going to be a deciding factor. Really, it would almost be more notable if both of them managed to get through the evening without some meltdown in the fourth quarter. And instead, what we had was one of the great displays of one-upsmanship in late-game mismanagement of this young season, and perhaps in several seasons. It might not have been LSU-Tennessee levels of crazy, but it was certainly another highlight in a day full of intense football.
To set the scene: Prescott had just led Mississippi State on a six-play, 82-yard drive to cut LSU's margin to two points. It was the second touchdown drive of the half for the Bulldogs, who were now truly threatening the Tigers after having managed just six points in the first three quarters. LSU started its following drive on its own 29-yard line, then moved it down to the Mississippi State 49, where they ended up facing fourth-and-2.
Having watched Prescott eviscerate the LSU defense, there was a strong contingent on Twitter that wanted Les Miles to go for it on fourth down. Instead, Miles decided to take a delay of game penalty and punt the ball. Here, we should have known what would happen under the First Rule of Les Miles Dynamics: When everyone is convinced that Les Miles is making the wrong decision, the Tigers will win.
Following the punt, Prescott got the ball back on the Mississippi State 11-yard line, and proceeded to march the Bulldogs right back down the field. There was plenty of time on the clock, but there might have been more had Dan Mullen not waited too long to call one of his timeouts during the preceding LSU drive. In any case, State makes its way down to the LSU 29. But Mississippi State gets flagged for delay of game. It ends up being a 52-yard field goal attempt for the win.
Mississippi State's Devon Bell pushes the first one well to the left. But wait -- Les Miles called his last timeout before the kick got off. This is a bad omen. Bell has now had a practice kick, and the next one ... goes wide right. LSU escapes, Les Miles having pulled another one of his Houdini acts.
Up next for LSU is a game against Auburn that could eliminate one set of Tigers from the race for the SEC West. Meanwhile, Mississippi State gets a home date against Northwestern State before traveling to Auburn at the end of the month. With those three teams tangling, there's no way to tell what might happen late in the game or how it might impact the divisional standings.