BATON ROUGE - LSU played small ball in the first half Saturday night and found itself tied with 26-point underdog Southern Mississippi.
So it went deep.
The 25th-ranked Tigers scored three of their four touchdowns in the third quarter on plays of 61, 80 and 63 yards to turn a 10-10 deadlock into a 45-10 runaway victory in front of about 80,000 at Tiger Stadium Saturday night.
"I think our guys woke up a little bit at halftime," said LSU coach Ed Orgeron, whose team had a surprise open weekend last week with the game at Florida being postponed. "It was no Vince Lombardi speech. I just challenged them to play 60 minutes."
LSU (4-2) failed to mount a drive of more than 55 yards in the first half, so it shifted to quick strikes, and the Golden Eagles didn't know what hit them. On the third play of the second half, tailback Derrius Guice broke a 61-yard touchdown run for a 17-10 lead with 13:22 to go in the third period. That drive went 70 yards in three plays and lasted 1:38, which was LSU's longest time of possession on a scoring drive in the third quarter and gives you an idea of what's coming up.
After safety Jamal Adams forced a fumble and recovered it for the Tigers at USM's 22-yard line, Guice scored two plays later on a 20-yard run for a 24-10 lead with 10:50 left in the third quarter. LSU's 22-yard touchdown drive took two plays and took up 1:02, but that apparently was not quick enough.
After an attempt at a sustained drive with two rushes by tailback Darrel Williams for eight yards and an incomplete pass, LSU quarterback Danny Etling went to the air. He threw about 20 yards to wide receiver D.J. Chark, who caught it near the sideline and took off. USM safety D'Nerius Antoine, who went to Westgate High in New Iberia, appeared to have the angle on Chark. But Chark didn't think so and outran him for an 80-yard touchdown and 31-10 lead. LSU's drive totaled 80 yards in one play with a 23-second time of possession.
"D.J. just made a good play," Etling said. "It was supposed to be a short completion. I was just able to fit it in there, and he outran everyone. That's what I've been used to seeing in practice."
The Tigers stuck with this strategy. On their next possession, Etling dropped back on first down and found wide receiver Malachi Dupre behind the secondary and hit him perfectly for a 63-yard touchdown and 38-10 lead with 1:58 to go in the third quarter. And that time of possession was five seconds quicker than the previous one at 18 seconds.
"The third quarter was just a bad quarter," USM coach Jay Hopson said. "We fell apart. It was bang, bang, bang. It went from a ballgame to down 21 in about three minutes. We can't have those spurts. It was a tale of two halves. We stopped big plays in the first half. Then they hit a big play on a run. Then they get a fumble, and they're up 14. Then they get another big play, and the game's out of control. It was like night and day. It was just big play, big play, big play."
Etling added a 23-yard touchdown pass to Dupre with 5:16 to go in the game for the 45-10 final. Etling finished 11 of 18 for 276 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Dupre caught three passes in all for 100 yards. Chark also had three receptions for 91 yards. Guice led all rushers with 162 yards on 16 carries.
In the end, time of possession had small meaning in this game as USM (4-3) held it for 37:59 to 22:01 for LSU.
"We took some shots down the field," Orgeron said. "They gave it to us, so we took it."
The Tigers' only touchdown in the first half came after a 55-yard drive in three plays with Chark scoring on a 19-yard end around to tie the game 7-7 with 2:22 to go in the first quarter. USM took a 7-0 lead on the first possession of the game with a 75-yard drive in 15 plays. Tailback Ito Smith scored on a 1-yard run and finished with 64 yards on 16 carries.
"They hit us in the mouth on their first drive," Orgeron said.
USM quarterback Nick Mullens completed 25 of 36 passes, but just for 161 yards and no touchdowns.
"This was a taxing offense," Orgeron said. "They gave us some fits."
LSU took a 10-7 lead in the opening minute of the second quarter on a 38-yard field goal by Colby Delahoussaye that finished a 36-yard drive in five plays. USM tied it at 10 on a 37-yard field goal by Parker Shaunfield with 8:28 to go before halftime.
The Tigers, 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference, return to league play at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN against Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2), which lost to Arkansas Saturday night.
"The competition's going to get a little stiffer," Orgeron said. "We're going to get tested."
Orgeron was Ole Miss' head coach 2005 through 2007 and was fired after three losing seasons. He was 0-8 in the SEC in his last season.
"I don't have many memories of that place that I want to remember," he said. "I'm glad I'm an LSU Tiger. It's going to be a classic battle."