Keiland Williams moved piles, slipped tackles and ultimately broke the will of an upstart underdog trying to beat mighty LSU for the first time in more than a century.
Making his first start of the season, Williams ran for 116 yards and two second-half touchdowns, helping the ninth-ranked Tigers fend off Louisiana Tech 24-16 on Saturday night.
“It definitely gives you more confidence when you are out there knowing that you are not going to be pulled after one or two carries,” said Williams, who moved up on the depth chart when Charles Scott broke his collarbone last weekend at Alabama.
Article continues below ...
“You know if you can break a run for 10 or 15 yards, you are going to get a chance to stay in the game, work up a sweat and get things flowing. You find yourself more relaxed and you’re able to make more plays,” he said.
Williams’ first score, on a powerful 3-yard surge, gave LSU (8-2) a 17-13 lead midway through third quarter. His 9-yard TD in the fourth quarter made it a two-score game with a little over seven minutes to go.
Louisiana Tech (3-7) hasn’t beaten LSU since 1904. The Bulldogs took a 13-10 lead on the final play of the first half when running back Daniel Porter handled a direct snap on a fourth-down play and lobbed a 1-yard jump pass to tight end Dennis Morris.
Heavily favored LSU locked down the Bulldogs in the second half and overcome a shaky outing by quarterback Jarrett Lee, who started for the first time since last season because of Jordan Jefferson’s sprained right ankle.
Lee finished 7 of 22 for 105 yards and one TD. A season ago, he was ridiculed by Tigers fans for throwing seven interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. He was not picked off this time, though Tech came close twice.
Pressured often, Lee threw the ball away rather than force it into coverage, but was roundly booed for doing so, including an emphatic toss that drew an intentional grounding penalty.
“I don’t have to worry about that,” Lee said of the boos. “That kind of stuff is going to happen, so you just got to forget about it and go out there and get the job done.”
The crowd cheered in the fourth quarter when multitalented freshman Russell Shepard lined up in Lee’s place and scampered 14 yards for a first down, then booed again when Lee returned two plays later.
“I understand the history in this stadium with Jarrett Lee,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “It seems like to me that this man is out there doing what we ask him to do just as hard as he possibly can and I think he should be encouraged.”
“A certain feel that the fan base gave him is not proper. That’s not the way it should be,” he said. “He’s not perfect and dang it, we didn’t play well. It wasn’t all his fault. It just seems like we are ready to jump on him and I’m not ready to.”
Those boos didn’t last long though, as Lee handed off to Williams for the running back’s fourth TD of the season. The Tigers won for the 18th time in 19 meetings between the Louisiana schools and extended their winning streak against non-Southeastern Conference opponents to 23 games.
Matt Nelson had field goals of 30, 33 and 36 yards for the Bulldogs.
Daniel Porter ran for 64 yards for Tech, becoming the third player in school history to reach 3,000 career yards rushing. Tech quarterback Ross Jenkins was 16 of 13 for 143 yards and was sacked five times.
The bright spot for the Bulldogs was their running game, which accounted for 178 yards, well above the average of 121 yards rushing LSU’s defense had been allowing coming in.
“We ran ball as well as you can run it against them,” Tech coach Derek Dooley said. “We went toe-to-toe and we weren’t affected by the environment. We weren’t playing in awe of LSU and I think those are great steps. At the end of the day, they have a better football team than we have.”
LSU went up 10-3 late in the first quarter when Lee hit Brandon LaFell on a crossing route and LaFell darted into the clear for a 38-yard score.
The Bulldogs, which lost 45-35 to then-No. 5 Boise State a week earlier, again would not allow a top 10 team to bury them. Tech had a whopping 11-minute time of possession advantage in the first half and cut its deficit to 10-6 on Matt Nelson’s second field goal.
At halftime, LSU trotted to the locker room to boos from the home crowd after a stunning opening 30 minutes that saw Tech take the lead on a creative play call by Dooley.
On fourth down, with 2 seconds left in the second quarter and the ball just inside the LSU 2, Tech’s offense surprisingly took the field in place of the field goal unit and shifted into wildcat formation. Porter took the snap, started forward, the stopped and lobbed a jump pass to Morris, silencing a boisterous Tiger Stadium crowd.
A Louisiana Tech spokesman said the play gave the Bulldogs their first lead over the Tigers since the only time they beat LSU some 105 years ago. In LSU’s locker room, the atmosphere grew tense.
“Everyone was just screaming that we need to get going,” Williams said. “We definitely were not playing how we want and know we are capable of playing. We knew that we could not lose this game so we just wanted to go out there and get things rolling in the second half.”