LSU needed Keiland Williams’ late touchdown to put away Vanderbilt, 23-9 on a rain-soaked Saturday night, marking the second night this year that the 11th-ranked Tigers allowed an underdog to hang around.
“Any time you play imperfectly and you come to the postgame, you have to recognize that first things first – you’d much rather win than do any other thing,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “That being said, I think we’ve got to play better. … There were no style points for this one. That’s a fact.”
The Commodores (1-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) trailed by only one touchdown midway through the fourth quarter as they attempted to win in Tiger Stadium for the first time since 1951.
LSU (2-0, 1-0) made it a two-touchdown game with 6:01 to go after Williams’ second score. He slipped a tackle at the line of scrimmage, cut back, then faked a defender to the ground before hurdling over him and into the end zone for a 14-yard TD. Williams finished with 72 yards rushing and was the only LSU player to get into the end zone.
“Boy he made some great cuts,” Miles said. “In my opinion, that was the running back that Keiland Williams can be – very elusive and explosive and running with power. I hope that continues.”
Larry Smith scored Vanderbilt’s only touchdown on a 6-yard quarterback keeper in the first half. Vanderbilt freshman Zac Stacy rushed for 89 yards.
“We had several opportunities to get back in the game and we just failed to,” Smith said.
LSU’s Charles Scott did not have one of his better days, finishing with 49 yards rushing, but powered through the line to convert a pair of third-and-short runs on LSU’s final scoring drive.
That drive seemed to have stalled on Joel Caldwell’s diving interception near the goal line, but linebacker Chris Marve was called for defensive holding, giving the Tigers a first down on the Vanderbilt 24 line.
For most of the game, however, Vanderbilt’s defense kept the Commodores close with clutch stops, at times frustrating an LSU crowd still waiting to see the Tigers explode following a nervous 31-23 victory at Washington a week earlier. They’ll have to wait at least until unbeaten Louisiana-Lafayette comes to Baton Rouge next weekend.
LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson had trouble finding open receivers downfield, constantly checking down to receivers running short routes. He was 20 of 29 for 138 yards. He did not throw an interception but was sacked three times. His longest completion went for 30 yards to R.J. Jackson late in the first half, setting up the second of Josh Jasper’s three field goals.
Freshman quarterback Russell Shepard made his debut in the wildcat formation. He carried three times for 27 yards. He also had a 6-yard reception, but fumbled on that play, stalling a promising drive.
LSU made five trips inside the Vanderbilt 20, and three of the first four ended in field goals.
Jasper connected from 32, 22 and 24 yards, the last one putting LSU up 16-7 in the third quarter.
Vanderbilt got back within a touchdown when LSU long snapper Alex Russian sent the ball sailing over punter Derek Helton’s head for a safety.
Early in the fourth, Vanderbilt was driving for a potential tying score when Alex Washington bobbled a first-down catch at the LSU 15-yard line and defensive back Brandon Taylor picked it off.
“We’ve got to catch the ball better,” Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. “We dropped several first downs, the ball went through our hands for an interception. … We had a good chance to either score a touchdown or a field goal and make it a little tighter.”
It was a respectable performance for the Commodores, though not as good as they’d hoped after their 45-0 victory over Western Carolina last week. Penalties haunted them. They committed seven for 52 yards, and several sustained LSU scoring drives.
Though in some cases, Johnson chalked up the flags to “just people going hard, trying to make plays.”
Vanderbilt yielded its first points of the season late in the first quarter after committing a pair of face mask penalties during an LSU drive capped by Williams’ 6-yard run.
Vanderbilt cut its deficit to 10-7 when Smith scored easily on a 6-yard keeper as LSU bit on a fake to Stacy.
LSU’s defense shut out the Vanderbilt offense in the second half, however, and allowed Smith little success through the air. He finished 11-of-24 passing for 88 yards and one interception.
Both teams lost regulars to injuries. Vanderbilt right tackle James Williams broke his right ankle, while Miles said LSU running back Richard Murphy could miss the next two games with an undisclosed injury.