BATON ROUGE, La. — Zach Mettenberger’s perfectly placed 53-yard scoring strike to Odell Beckham Jr. exemplified the type of play Les Miles wanted to see from LSU’s offense before the Tigers hit one of the toughest stretches on their schedule.
If only that play had been the norm instead of the exception in a mistake-filled outing, Miles might not have been describing a “somber locker room” following No. 3 LSU’s 38-22 victory over Towson on Saturday night.
“It was just sloppy play,” Mettenberger said. “We have been sloppy week in and week out. We have to clean it up. Right now we are not playing LSU football. I’m very disappointed in myself and the team right now.”
Mettenberger hit Beckham five times for 128 yards and two touchdowns, and the quarterback finished 15 of 26 for 238 yards passing and no interceptions. Still, Mettenberger was sacked four times, missed some open receivers and a fumble he gave up — one of three LSU turnovers — led to the first of two touchdown runs by Towson’s Terrance West.
West’s first TD run gave Towson (2-2), an FCS team, a stunning 9-7 lead in the second quarter before LSU (5-0) responded with 24 straight points.
J.C. Copeland, LSU’s powerful 272-pound fullback, scored his third touchdown of the season on a 1-yard plunge in the third quarter, but was hurt in the fourth quarter and did not put any weight on his left leg as he was helped off the field. Miles did not have an update on Copeland’s condition after the game, but insinuated Copeland could be sidelined a while when he added, “We still have a couple of fullbacks that we can line up and play with.”
In all, LSU fell short of the confidence-building performance it wanted before a trip to No. 11 Florida next weekend, followed by a visit from No. 6 South Carolina.
“If we don’t turn the ball over or throw the ball on the ground and we protect our quarterback … this thing looks like it’s supposed to,” Miles said. “I must not well have prepared them.”
LSU had portrayed its 12-10 victory at Auburn a week earlier as a wakeup call, but it continued to stumble intermittently against its first FCS opponent of the season — enough so that frustrated fans routinely groaned and even booed.
“To say that we made improvement, I can’t say that,” Miles said. “I’d have to say it was the same style of football that we played last week.”
LSU fumbled five times in all but recovered the ball twice. Mettenberger’s fumble was his third in two games. Michael Ford’s fumble in the third quarter stalled a likely scoring drive on the Towson 13. Kenny Hilliard’s fumble set up Towson’s opening points on a field goal.
Ford still had a solid game overall, rushing 11 times for 76 yards, including a 4-yard TD. Receiver Russell Shepard had his best play on a designed run in the first quarter, when he burst through the line and sped down the sideline for a career-long 78-yard scoring run that he finished by diving to the pylon.
Towson’s Grant Enders was 13 of 33 for 103 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Gerrard Shepard. He also rushed for 86 yards. West finished with 79 yards on 22 carries.
“I’m extremely conflicted,” said Towson coach Rob Ambrose, whose program earned more than $500,000 and invaluable exposure for its nationally televised visit to Death Valley. “You don’t line up to lose. With that being said, as a head coach, as an alum, as a father, I don’t think it’s humanly possible for me to be more proud of these players.”
Towson did not drive past its own 30 on its first three possessions, but Hilliard’s fumble on the LSU 38 late in the first quarter gave Towson its first break, and it capitalized with D.J. Sloven’s field goal.
Five of LSU’s first six drives ended with three punts, a fumble and a missed 51-yard field goal attempt, keeping Towson in the game. Beckham later said he sensed a lack of intensity among his teammates.
“You could just see it on the sidelines,” he said. “Everybody was really just not into the game. As soon as everybody started to get into the game things started to pick up. We just have to continue to do that.”
The animated Ambrose appeared to be thoroughly enjoying his Death Valley experience on the visitor’s sideline, and it only got better for him when Mettenberger fumbled on a sack while scrambling left and Towson recovered on LSU’s 45. Soon after, Enders scrambled 43 yards to the LSU 1, and West dove over the pile to give Towson the lead. The point-after kick missed, however, leaving it 9-7.
“It boosted our confidence,” Enders said. “With the opportunity to be on this stage and scoring the first touchdown, we realized we could play with them.”
Mettenberger responded as LSU hoped on his next drive, hitting tight end Chase Clement over the middle for 27 yards, then finding Beckham for a 27-yard score to make it 14-9.
LSU had another scoring chance before halftime after Towson’s R.J. Peppers shanked a punt only 6 yards to his own 22, but the drive stalled at the 5, setting up Drew Alleman’s field goal to make it 17-9.