BATON ROUGE -- On a damp night in Tiger Stadium, third-ranked LSU overcame three fumbles and 10 penalties to defeat Towson, 38-22, on Saturday.
LSU (5-0, 1-0 SEC) finished off its final non-conference matchup in anything but style, struggling to find offensive rhythm in the first half but getting big plays to overwhelm its Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
A 78-yard first-quarter touchdown run by LSU's Russell Shepard and touchdown passes of 27 and 53 yards from quarterback Zach Mettenberger to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. highlighted the otherwise-forgetful first meeting between the teams.
"First, you have to give credit to the Towson Tigers," LSU head coach Les Miles said. "I told our team that they were a good football team. I insisted that we prepare well. We did. I thought our practice week was good. We didn't play like that though. We didn't give them the credit that they deserved."
Towson (2-2), ranked No. 12 in its division, proved a formidable foe. The Tigers took advantage of LSU's mistakes -- and a less-than-raucous atmosphere -- to lead LSU for a brief time and hang with the Southeastern Conference powerhouse into the fourth quarter.
"I am extremely conflicted," Towson head coach Rob Ambrose said. "I hate losing. I know everybody that watches this or reads this might think that's insane, considering who we played. I don't care. 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, or more proud of the fans that came down here."
LSU outgained Towson, 396-291, but put the ball on the ground five times -- its most since 1997 -- and lost three of the fumbles.
Mettenberger had one of the fumbles which led to a Towson go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter. The junior quarterback overcame a rough start to finish 15-of-26 passing for 238 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked four times but did not throw an interception.
Shepard's lone run was enough to lead LSU rushing, while Michael Ford had a team-high 11 rushes for 76 yards and a touchdown. Spencer Ware had 36 yards, while Kenny Hilliard had 23 yards. Both Hilliard and Ford had fumbles lost, while Ware recovered his own and Chase Clement recovered Hilliard's second near the Towson goalline.
"I thought that we played down to our opponent," Miles said. "I thought that if we don't turn the ball over or throw the ball on the ground and we protect our quarterback that this thing looks like it is supposed to be. It is uncharacteristic at the end of the game that a defense like ours would be driven on. I must not have prepared them well. I can tell you that we are looking forward to turning our attentions to Florida."
Miles' Tigers next take on the Gators in Gainesville on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT. The SEC tilt will be broadcast by CBS for the seventh time in eight seasons.
Beckham Jr. had a game-high 128 yards receiving on five catches with two scores. Wide receiver Kadron Boone added three receptions for 33 yards.
Towson quarterback Grant Enders completed only 13-of-33 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked three times but used his legs to give LSU trouble. He led Towson with 86 yards rushing on 12 carries including a 43-yarder to the LSU 1 after Mettenberger's fumble in the second quarter.
Running back Terrance West, who won the Jerry Rice Award as the FCS's top freshman in 2011, added 79 yards on 22 carries with two 1-yard touchdown runs.
Towson won the toss, deferred its choice until the second half. The visiting Tigers kicked short to Nic Jacobs who returned 11 yards to the 29 where LSU started it first drive.
Two quick passes from Mettenberger to Boone gave the Tigers a first down to the 45. After Ware's 11-yard run put LSU in Towson territory, a pair of incomplete passes forced LSU to punt from the Towson 39.
Wings punt was unable to be stopped short of the goal line and Towson started its drive at its 20. After a quick three-and-out and a 54-yard punt by Towson's R.J. Peppers, LSU began its second drive at its 22.
The home-standing Tigers got on the scoreboard first with a quick, inside handoff to Shepard who dashed up the middle for a 78-yard touchdown run. LSU led 7-0 with 10:24 remaining in the first quarter.
The teams traded three-straight punts and gained only two first downs before LSU made its first mistake of the game on its side of the field.
After picking up first-down yardage at the LSU 38, Kenny Hilliard coughed up the ball and it was recovered by defensive back Jordan Dangerfield. It was the first fumble lost by an LSU running back in 225 carries, but an omen of what was to come.
Early in the second quarter, Towson converted the turnover into points when D.J. Soven hit a 26-yard field goal. Towson trailed 7-3 with 13:34 left in the half.
Though its offense remained out of sync and punted for the third time, LSU came up with a turnover of its own when linebacker Kwon Alexander ripped the ball away from tight end Cory Kirby and Tharold Simon recovered at the Towson 36.
However, LSU managed only three yards and Drew Alleman's 51-yard field goal was wide left.
Beckham Jr. returned the punt 30 yards into Towson territory. But, just when LSU looked like it would assert its dominance, Mettenberger was sacked by Tye Smith 12 yards behind the line and fumbled. Towson's Bryton Barr recovered at the LSU 45, setting up a 43-yard scramble by Enders to the LSU 1.
A 1-yard touchdown run by West and a missed PAT put Towson ahead, 9-7, with 5:15 remaining in the half.
The lead was short-lived, however. Mettenberger helped LSU overcome a holding penalty by connecting with tight end Chase Clement for 27 yards on second-and-16. After Ware recovered his own fumble at the 27, Mettenberger answered the Towson score with a perfect 27-yard touchdown pass to Beckham Jr.
The play-action pass gave LSU a 14-9 lead with 2:52 remaining in the half.
After a touchback, LSU's defense quickly earned another stop with Edwards' second sack of the game, and Peppers' punt of only six yards gave LSU possession at the Towson 22.
Hilliard gained at first down to the 11, but LSU managed only six yards before settling for a 23-yard field goal by Alleman.
Despite outgaining Towson, 207-110, LSU only led 17-9 at the half.
With a 22-yard pass to Tom Ryan and a 15-yard run by West, Towson started the third quarter by moving into LSU territory. However, a false start penalty on third-and-10 made Soven try a 53-yard field goal that came up just short.
After the change of possession, LSU gained first downs on three-straight plays -- a 22 yard run by Michael Ford, a 13-yard pass to Beckham Jr. and an 11-yard run by Ford -- and looked to be rolling over the tiring guests. Ford fumbled after a 6-yard gain on the next play to stymie other drive, this time in the opponent's redzone.
This time, LSU took advantage of the Towson mistake with a 1-yard touchdown run by fullback J.C. Copeland on third down. With 5:56 remaining in the third quarter, LSU led 24-9.
Towson gained a first down, but another short punt gave LSU the ball on its 30. After slipping down on second down, Mettenberger overcame a third-and-14 with a 17-yard pass to Boone. On third-and-6, the junior quarterback fired a 57-yard touchdown catch and run to Beckham Jr. that pushed LSU's advantage to 31-9.
Towson put together its most impressive drive of the evening, advancing 64 yards on 12 plays including a 1-yard touchdown run by West.
Towson trimmed the margin to 31-16 with 8:58 left in the game.
On the ensuing drive, Mettenberger connected with Beckham Jr. for 24 yards on third-and-10 to keep the drive alive, then found Jacobs for 21 yards to the Towson 26. The last of five-straight runs by Ford ended with a 4-yard touchdown run that pushed the LSU lead to 38-16.
Towson added a touchdown in the waning minutes against LSU's backups but the snap on the PAT was fumbled.
The announced paid attendance was 92,154.
LSU vs. Towson
Sept. 29, 2012
LSU HEAD COACH LES MILES
"First, you have to give credit to the Towson Tigers. I told our team that they were a good football team. I insisted that we prepare well. We did. I thought our practice week was good. We didn't play like that though. We didn't give them the credit that they deserved. I thought that their (running) back was a big strong powerful back. I thought their quarterback was a talented guy and could move his feet. Frankly, they did what they should have done defensively. Give them some credit. I thought that they played well.
"I thought that we played down to our opponent. I thought that if we don't turn the ball over or throw the ball on the ground and we protect our quarterback that this thing looks like it is supposed to be. It is uncharacteristic at the end of the game that a defense like ours would be driven on. I must not have prepared them well. I can tell you that we are looking forward to turning our attentions to Florida. I can tell you that it was a somber locker room. I just want to tell you something, our football program is based on the need for victory on the backend of every week. Certainly what we achieved today might have well been the key piece. To say that we made improvement, I can't say that. It was the same style of football that we played last week. With that being said, I think that we are a good football team and there are things that we need to get accomplished this week. Our team will come to work with much more focus on Monday."
On ball security...
"I can tell you that it is the first that I put on the practice schedule. I know that our guys work it. I can promise you that it is something that has not escaped us in any way."
On fixing the mistakes...
"There are some things that we are going to do differently that will help us that way. Am I alarmed? Yes, absolutely. I think it is time that we recognize that we cannot go on the path that we are on. It is not productive, and it is not the football we are used to. I can't tell you the last time that we put the ball on the ground five times in a game. I've been around here eight years. There is not one. We're going to tighten it up comfortably. It is not the first time that they have heard it. I think we will play better."
On Zach Mettenberger's play...
"To be honest with you, if something bad happened, he came out and did something good. If you are looking for a resilient characteristic in your quarterback, you saw that. A (running) back made a mistake in the protection; he gets hammered and comes off the field. He comes back out and makes a play. He falls down, makes a mistake, and comes back and makes a play. He needs to continue to make the right plays."
TOWSON HEAD COACH ROB AMBROSE QUOTES
"I am extremely conflicted. I hate losing. I know everybody that watches this or reads this might think that's insane, considering who we played. I don't care. 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, or more proud of the fans that came down here. I'm conflicted."
On their opportunity to play an FBS team...
"In the short time that we've had enough scholarships to be able to play FBS teams, we don't have a lot of experience with this. But we have drawn from what experience that we do have. A year ago, we had the opportunity to play the University of Maryland and took them pretty deep. The problem was that we didn't really believe. Not enough guys. Then we played Kent State and turned the ball over six times because we didn't really believe. We went in and started slow and didn't really believe that we could win. But if you go back and watch the film that these kids have seen, the other guy is just not that big. He's a little bit bigger, but he's not that much bigger. He's a little faster, but he's not that much faster. And if we play as 11, we play with energy, we play with discipline, and we're tough, then we have a chance to be successful."
On the team's defensive effort...
"We've been building toward this, defensively, to force turnovers, to play as 11, to be disciplined. We've been working toward it. Some nights we've had nine guys and 10 guys, but tonight we had 11. I give tremendous credit to the kids and the defensive staff for putting a game plan together against one of the best teams in the nation."
TOWSON OFFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
QB Grant Enders
On the rain...
"It slowed down right at game time, so it wasn't too much of a factor at all. They did a good job of getting dried balls in, so it didn't affect it at all."
On the Towson fans in attendance...
"We had an amazing turn out with our fans from Towson. They made the long trip over, and I was looking up to our section there. It wasn't too big, but it was loud."
On the view from around the country...
"I'm not sure if they were too familiar with our school and where we are from. I think and I hope that after the game they will realize the difference between FCS and FBS football is not that big. At the end of the day it's 11 guys versus 11 guys competing to win and anyone can beat anyone."
On the first touchdown...
"It boosted our confidence because we've been ready to play since we got here. With the opportunity to be on this stage and scoring the first touchdown, we realized we could play with them."
TOWSON DEFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
DE Frank Beltre
On tonight's game ...
"We should have beat them. We knew that was their weakness; they couldn't pass. So, that's what we attacked. We stopped their run game and they couldn't pass and it showed. We prepared very well."
On earning respect ...
"I feel like we were viewed as a little high school team. We were looked at as like nobody, to be honest with you. They called us Towsen, Towson State, they called us everything but what we are, Towson University. That's why when we came out, we punched them in the mouth, because they weren't ready for what we had."
DB Jordan Dangerfield
On forcing a fumble ...
"The whole week we were practicing stripping the ball and forcing turnovers. We knew we would have to come out here and compete and win the turnover battle. That was one of our goals we tried to do to get the ball back to the offense as much as possible. That particular play I just ran downhill and came up physical."
On earning respect ...
"The fact that they came out and disrespected us calling us Towson State, calling us Towsen. We wanted to make a statement telling everybody, pretty much nationwide, that we're Towson University and that we came here to play football. We didn't come here to pick up a check, we came here to try to win and shock the world."