STARKVILLE, Miss. - Matt Flynn was average in his first game as LSU's No. 1 quarterback. It looked great compared to the way Mississippi State's Michael Henig played Thursday night.
Craig Steltz grabbed three of Henig's record-tying six interceptions and the second-ranked Tigers rumbled past the Bulldogs as usual 45-0. Flynn and new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton struggled to find a rhythm early, but they received plenty of help from Henig and the Tigers' defense on a rainy night.
"We knew the plays were going to come,'' Flynn said. "It was really messy out there. The rain was really coming down out there. It was tough to hang on to the ball, tough to put yards together.''
Just ask Henig, who practically handed LSU its eighth straight win overall. The Tigers scored points after five of his interceptions and a fumble by backup quarterback Wesley Carroll set up another.
"I'll be the first to admit he wasn't playing well,'' Mississippi coach Sylvester Croom said. "There's not a whole lot to say.''
It was LSU's eighth straight win in the series with the Bulldogs. Since Mississippi State's last win in 1999, LSU has outscored the Bulldogs 340-81, including three shutouts by 42 or more points.
Mississippi State has lost 12 straight games to Top 10 opponents and 11 of its last 13 home games.
Steltz, Curtis Taylor, Jonathan Zenon and Danny McCray had interceptions in the first half and Steltz added two more in the second half. The Tigers needed the help as a stout Bulldogs defense held them scoreless on every drive but one that wasn't set up by a turnover.
Henig also fumbled the snap on a fourth-and-1 attempt after he led the team on a nine-play drive in the first quarter that put the Bulldogs at the Tigers 36. It was one of only two serious forays into LSU territory.
Henig tied the school record for interceptions in a game that had stood since 1949, when Max Stainbrook did it against Cincinnati, before giving way to Carroll midway through the fourth quarter. It was Henig's fifth multiple-interception game in 10 career starts and the most picks he's thrown since giving away three passes against Alabama on Nov. 5, 2005, as a freshman.
How does a quarterback recover from a six-interception game?
"A lot of prayer to clear my head,'' Henig said. "I know a lot of people will say bad things this week. But I can't pay attention to that.''
LSU coach Les Miles said he'd never had team pick off six passes in a game.
"I hope it's not the last,'' he said.
Croom said the turnovers undermined any chance the Bulldogs had.
"You lose field position, you lose offensive opportunities and the big thing is you can't give the defense a rest,'' he said.
While Henig struggled, Flynn gained confidence as the game progressed. After completing 3 of 7 passes for 23 yards in the first quarter, JaMarcus Russell's replacement zeroed in on Early Doucet. The fifth-year senior QB finished with 128 yards on 12 of 19 passing with two touchdowns and no turnovers in his second career start. Doucet had nine catches for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Flynn also ran for 42 yards.
"Flynn made good plays and was really the key to our efforts on offense,'' Miles said. "He moved well in the pocket and avoided negative yardage.''
Jacob Hester gave LSU a boost early and finished with 68 yards rushing on 14 carries. He also served as the lead blocker on two 1-yard TD runs by Keiland Williams that helped the Tigers to a 17-0 halftime lead.
While LSU's offense will have to find some consistency as the team prepares for next week's game against No. 9 Virginia Tech, its defense appeared to be as dominating as last year.
The Tigers allowed 146 total yards and held the Bulldogs to 10 yards rushing. LSU also had four sacks and a fumble recovery.
Mississippi State can take some consolation in keeping the game close in the first half. Last season, the Tigers led 21-0 after the first quarter and 35-3 midway through a 48-17 win.
But the result certainly won't take the pressure off Croom, who has lost 26 games in four seasons at Starkville and will be searching for his 10th win when the Bulldogs travel to Tulane on Sept. 8.
Croom remains optimistic.
"I told my football team in the dressing room after that we're going to be a very good team before this season is over,'' he said.