By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
BATON ROUGE, LA. — For a period of time in the second and third quarters on Saturday night, Towson had reason to dream it could score an earth-shaking upset over LSU before an announced crowd of 92,154 fans at rainy Tiger Stadium.
But Towson (2-2) made just enough mistakes to turn a potential upset into a 38-22 loss to the No. 3-ranked team in the Associated Press top-25 poll at historic Death Valley.
Terrance West's one-yard touchdown burst with 5:15 remaining in the second quarter gave Towson a 9-7 lead and had the FCS Tigers thinking of Christmas in September.
But LSU (5-0) needed only six plays to regain the lead on a 27-yard connection between quarterback Zach Mettenberger to Odell Beckham Jr. pushed the BCS Tigers back in front for good. The pair would get together again for a 53-yard scoring strike in the fourth period.
"We should have beat them," Towson All-American defensive end Frank Beltre said bluntly. "We came out and we punched them in the mouth, because they weren't ready for what we had."
LSU managed to turn Towson mistakes into 10 second-quarter points and added a decisive touchdown in the third period after Jordan Love fumbled a punt at the TU eight-yard line.
J.C. Copeland may, or may not have broken the plain of the goal from the one for a touchdown with less than six minutes left in the third stanza, but a video review let the score stand and LSU took a 24-9 lead.
The two teams then basically traded body blows in the fourth quarter as LSU won by 16 points — after point spreads had LSU as an almost 48-point favorite this week.
"I'm extremely conflicted," said Towson coach Rob Ambrose. "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."
After making that statement, Ambrose turned from disappointed coach into proud teacher.
"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,"
Towson was spectacular on defense after a draw play in the first period resulted in a 78-yard touchdown for Russell Shepard on the first play of LSU's second drive.
The TU Tigers forced five LSU fumbles and recovered three of them, but that advantage was negated by a pair of lost fumbles by Towson and a shanked punt that resulted in 10 crucial points for LSU.
LSU, coming off a tough 12-10 win on the road last week against Southeastern Conference opponent Auburn, managed only a 396-291 advantage in total offense.
Towson managed 108 more yards against the LSU defense than Auburn did and had more first downs (19-18) than the Bayou Tigers.
"I told our team that they were a good football team," said LSU coach Les Miles. "We didn't give them the credit they deserved."
The 22 points posted by Towson were the most allowed by LSU's lauded defense since a 40-27 victory over Oregon to start the 2011 season. The 291 yards piled up by Towson were the most surrendered in five games by LSU.
"I thought their back was a big, strong, powerful back," said Miles. "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, they played well."
West showed why many scouts believe he is the best running back in FCS by banging out 79 yards for two touchdowns on 22 tough carries against the fourth-ranked defense in FBS and quarterback Grant Enders had 189 yards of total offense — including 43 yards on a draw play that set up the first Towson touchdown.
"I'm proud we didn't stop fighting," said Enders, who ran 12 times for 86 yards and was 13-of-33 for 103 yards passing on the wet night. "It was good to score points against a great defense."
Towson scored for the first time with 13:34 left in the second quarter after strong safety Thomas Bradley separated LSU running back Kenny Hilliard from the ball and free safety Jordan Dangerfield recovered it at the LSU 38.
"The whole week, we were practicing stripping the ball and forcing turnovers," said Dangerfield. "We knew we could come out here and compete and win the turnover battle."
Towson pounded the ball down to the four and faced a fourth and one when game officials miss-spotted a West surge on third down.
The TU Tigers lined up to go for it, but the Death Valley crowd got loud enough to force an error when tight end Cory Kirby was flagged for a false start.
Now, with a fourth and six, Towson sent on D.J. Soven and the place kicker drilled a 26-yard field goal to make it 7-3.
Kirby fumbled after a six-yard catch when he was hit by Kwon Alexander on the first play of the next Towson series and Tharold Simon pounced on the ball at the TU 36 to put Towson in a bind.
But any thought that LSU had that it was in for an easy game was obliterated by the Towson defense.
Middle linebacker Monty Gaddis (seven tackles, one sack, two tackles for 14 yards of loss) was in on a pair of tackles and strong-side linebacker Bryton Barr hurried Mettenberger into an incompletion on a third-down blitz.
Drew Alleman was wide with a 51-yard field goal attempt and Towson had dodged a bullet.
LSU threatened again on its next possession, but cornerback Tye Smith (10 tackles, nine solo stops, two tackles for 21 yards of losses) drilled Mettenberger off the edge and forced a fumble that Barr fell on at the LSU 45.
Enders' third-down, 43-yard draw play very nearly resulted in a touchdown, but West scored on the next play as TV sets around the country suddenly switched over to the ESPNU broadcast.
Soven's PAT attempt was hit awkwardly and floated wide of the right upright.
After the great scoring catch by Beckham (five receptions, 128 yards, two TDs receiving, 169 all-purpose yards) gave the LSU Tigers the lead back at 14-9, another Towson miscue allowed LSU to build its advantage to eight points before halftime.
R.J. Peppers, whose fine directional punting the rest of game kept the dangerous Beckham under control, shanked a punt from near the goal line for six yards before it sailed into the LSU sideline.
That gave LSU the ball at the Towson 22, but the TU Tiger defense held LSU to a single first down before Alleman was beckoned on to hit a 23-yard field goal.
Towson drove to the LSU 36 after taking the second-half kickoff, but on a fourth and seven, Ambrose decided to attempt a 53-yard field goal instead of sending in a fourth-down play.
Soven struck the ball hard and straight, but his attempt fell just short.
LSU moved the ball quickly into Towson territory, but with a first and 10 from the TU 18, Dangerfield stripped the ball from LSU running back Michael Ford and Beltre recovered at the 13.
"We've been building toward this, to force turnovers, to play as 11, to be disciplined," said Ambrose. "Some nights we've had nine and 10 guys, tonight we had 11. I give credit to the kids and the defensive staff for putting a game plan together against one of the best teams in the nation."
Towson continued to hold its own until later in the third period when Love, who played a solid game all night defensively, dropped a soaring, 42-yard Brad Wing punt at the TU 12.
Jarvis Landry hustled down the field and recovered the ball at the Towson eight and Copeland received credit for a touchdown on a third-down plunge from the one, though it appeared he was stopped short.
LSU finally had control of the game with a 24-9 lead and began to wear down that stalwart Towson defense in the fourth quarter for two more touchdowns.
But Towson showed its fortitude by striking back for two nice touchdown drives on its final two possessions as the two sides traded points.
West capped a 12-play, 64-yard drive with another one-yard scoring blast and Enders connected with Gerrard Sheppard on a nine-yard fade route to make it a 38-16 game with 1:30 remaining.
But a two-point conversion try failed and LSU was able to grab a pouched kickoff and run out the clock.
And it left Towson somewhat bitter that it didn't take more advantage of its chance for an upset.
"We wanted to make a statement, telling everybody, pretty much nationwide, that we're Towson University and that we came her to play football," said Dangerfield. "We didn't come here to pick up a check, we came here to win and shock the world."
The win part may have not quite worked out, but there is no doubt that Towson earned the appreciation of one of college football's best crowds and the respect of one of the top teams in BCS.