BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Zach Mettenberger and the LSU offense are still searching for consistency as the Tigers enter one of the toughest stretches on their schedule.
Mettenberger connected with Odell Beckham Jr. five times for 128 yards and two touchdowns, but No. 3 LSU was unable to eliminate nagging offensive sloppiness in a 38-22 victory over overmatched but feisty Towson on Saturday night.
Mettenberger's scoring strikes to Beckham went for 53 and 27 yards, and LSU's quarterback finished 15-of-26 for 238 yards passing. Still, Mettenberger was sacked four times, missed some open receivers and a fumble he gave up — one of three LSU turnovers — led to the first of two touchdown runs by Towson's Terrance West.
West's first TD run gave Towson, an FCS team, a stunning 9-7 lead in the second quarter before LSU responded with 24 straight points.
J.C. Copeland, LSU's powerful 272-pound fullback, scored his third touchdown of the season on a 1-yard plunge, but was hurt in the fourth quarter and did not put any weight on his left leg as he was helped off the field.
In all, LSU's performance fell well short of the confidence-building performance it wanted before a trip to No. 11 Florida next weekend, followed by a visit from No. 6 South Carolina.
LSU had portrayed its narrow 12-10 victory at Auburn a week earlier as a wakeup call, but it continued to stumble intermittently against its first FCS opponent of the season — enough so that frustrated fans routinely groaned and even booed.
LSU fumbled five times in all but recovered two of them. Mettenberger's fumble was his third in two games. Michael Ford's fumble in the third quarter stalled a likely scoring drive on the Towson 13. Kenny Hilliard's fumble set up Towson's opening points on a field goal.
Ford still had a solid game overall, rushing 11 times for 76 yards, including a 4-yard TD. Receiver Russell Shepard had his best play on a designed run, bursting through the line and speeding down the sideline for a career-long 78-yard scoring run that he finished by diving to the pylon.
Towson quarterback Grant Enders was 13-of-33 for 103 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Gerrard Shepard. He also rushed for 86 yards, including a 43-yard scamper that set up West's first TD on a 1-yard dive. West finished with 79 yards on 22 carries. His second TD run also came from a yard out.
Shepard opened scoring on the first play of LSU's second possession.
Towson did not drive past its own 30 on its first three possessions, but Hilliard's fumble on the LSU 38 late in the first quarter gave Towson its first break, and it capitalize with D.J. Sloven's field goal.
Five of LSU's first six drives ended with three punts, a fumble and a missed 51-yard field goal attempt, keeping Towson in the game.
Animated Towson coach Rob Ambrose appeared to be thoroughly enjoying his Death Valley experience on the visitor's sideline, and it only got better for him when Mettenberger fumbled on a sack while scrambling left and Towson recovered on LSU's 45. Soon after, Enders scrambled 43 yards to the LSU 1, and West dove over the pile to give Towson the lead. The point-after kick missed, however, leaving it 9-7.
Mettenberger responded as LSU hoped on his next drive, hitting tight end Chase Clement over the middle for 27 yards, then finding Beckham for a 27-yard score to make it 14-9.
LSU had another scoring chance before halftime after Towson's R.J. Peppers shanked a punt only 6 yards to his own 22, but the drive stalled at the 5, setting up Drew Alleman's field goal to make it 17-9.