STARKVILLE, Miss. -- LSU's Jarrett Lee stepped back in the pocket, surveyed the field and let a pass fly. It was a beautifully thrown fade route to Rueben Randle, who beat two Mississippi State defenders to the corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown.
Everyone already knew LSU had a great running game and defense. Now the Tigers might be developing a quarterback to match.
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"Rueben made a great route -- it was just a matter of putting it out there for him," Lee said. "I feel like I'm becoming a more mature player. Really developing."
The senior quarterback, filling in for suspended Jordan Jefferson, completed 21 of 27 passes for 213 yards and the touchdown and No. 3 LSU defeated No. 25 Mississippi State 19-6 on Thursday night.
Lee's night was filled with conservative, but nearly perfect passes all over the field. Then in a crucial moment, his strike to Randle hushed a raucous Mississippi State crowd and gave the Tigers a 16-6 lead.
His only real mistake was an interception minutes later, but as it had all game, LSU's defense stuffed Mississippi State with little trouble. LSU (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) had 15 tackles for a loss and held the Bulldogs (1-2, 0-2) to 193 total yards and two field goals.
"It was really fun to see," LSU coach Les Miles said.
Despite Mississippi State's cowbells providing an ever-present backdrop, LSU won its 12th straight game in the series dating to 1999.
Lee's success is quickly making LSU fans forget about Jefferson, the expected starter who has been suspended all season after being arrested for his alleged role in a bar fight in August. Lee wasn't necessarily spectacular, but he didn't have to be, calmly managing the game and hitting open receivers when opportunities arose.
It's a stark contrast from his freshman season in 2008, when Lee threw 16 interceptions, including seven that were returned for touchdowns. Since those tough days he's spent most of the time on the bench. Now with a new opportunity, he's taking full advantage.
It helps that LSU's running game continues to be spectacular. Spencer Ware rushed for 107 yards on 22 carries.
LSU was its own worst enemy much of the game before its late-game breakout. In a particularly brutal stretch in the third quarter, the Tigers committed five penalties in less than nine minutes, losing 67 yards in the process. Lee's interception gave Mississippi State newfound life after falling behind 16-6.
But LSU's defense was good enough to make up for all those transgressions, constantly putting pressure on Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf and disrupting the Bulldogs' vaunted running game, which had gained at least 300 yards rushing in each of the season's first two games.
MSU's Vick Ballard managed just 38 yards on 10 carries, while Relf rushed for 10 yards on 16 carries. Relf was benched for Tyler Russell late in the game, but the sophomore didn't have any success either.
"We didn't get into a rhythm," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "... We got behind and had to throw the ball and play their game. Our playmakers have to make plays. We will be all right - our guys always bounce back."
The loss continued Mississippi State's frustration against SEC Western Division rivals. The Bulldogs are 2-10 against the West, with both of those wins coming against rival Ole Miss. It's been a tough six days for Mississippi State, which lost to Auburn 41-34 on Saturday.
As expected, the game was bruising from the outset. Relf was thrown to the turf on a sack by LSU's Kendrick Adams on the second play of the game, and the tone never changed for either team.
Though both teams are known for their run-first approach, the quarterbacks had a surprising amount of success, especially in the first half. Lee completed 13 of 15 passes for 128 yards in the first half and Relf countered with 9 of 11 completions for 78 yards.
But that success bogged down once either offense entered the red zone, with both teams having to settle for field goals that did little to alter momentum.
LSU scored first after a 16-play, 77-yard drive ended in Drew Alleman's 21-yard field goal. Mississippi State answered with their own bruising 14-play, 57-yard drive, capped by Derek DePasquale's 26-yard field goal.
LSU took a 6-3 lead into halftime after Alleman drilled a 42-yard field goal with 1:18 left in the second quarter.
The field goal parade continued in the second half, with DePasquale's 42-yarder tying the game at 6 in the third quarter. Alleman answered with a 41-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 9-6 lead with 1:46 remaining.
Finally, LSU was able to break through with Lee's touchdown throw to Randle, which quieted the cowbells.
"We went into half saying 'We took some 3s, but they need to be 7s,"' Miles said. "But the way our defense was playing, that almost wasn't necessary."
By the end of the game, the small contingent of LSU fans in the corner of the stadium was chanting "This is our State," a not-so-subtle jab at Mississippi State's marketing campaign that is constantly shown on Davis Wade Stadium's massive jumbotron.