BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Ticker) -- Louisiana State received some special treatment.
Domanick Davis brought back a punt 78 yards for a touchdown and added a short scoring run as the 20th-ranked Tigers opened their Southeastern Conference schedule with a 31-13 victory over mistake-prone Mississippi State.
The defending Southeastern Conference champions, LSU (3-1) had plenty of help along the way as it won its third straight game following a season-opening loss at Virginia Tech.
In addition to Davis' return, the Tigers had two drives that resulted in touchdowns in the second half kept alive by special teams penalties on Mississippi State.
Davis also scored on five-yard run and Matt Mauck passed for a score and ran for another for LSU, which has beaten Mississippi State the last two seasons by a combined 73-13.
Davis carried 18 times for 122 yards. He added 164 more combined yards on punt and kickoff returns.
With pressure mounting on coach Jackie Sherrill, the struggling Bulldogs (1-3, 0-2 SEC West) have lost their three Division I-A games by an average of 23 points. Mississippi State's lone win was a 51-13 rout of Division I-AA Jacksonville State.
Despite committing three turnovers in its own territory in the first half, LSU held a 14-10 lead at intermission.
On their first possession of the second half, the Tigers received some help from the Bulldogs' special teams.
On a 4th-and-4 play from their own territory, the Tigers got a first down when backup running back Fred Reid roughed punter Donnie Jones.
The Tigers turned the miscue into points as they moved 80 yards in 10 plays. Mauck capped the march with a 36-yard touchdown pass to Devery Henderson that made it 21-10.
Mauck had an uneventful game as he completed just 4-of-12 passes for 52 yards. LSU turned to its running game as it gained 256 yards on the ground.
"The running game was very dominant today," Mauck said. "Our offensive line did an outstanding job. They should be very proud of themselves. We came out a little sluggish, but at the end of the second quarter, we dominated the game. We came out and wanted to show some different things today."
Mississppi State hurt itself later in the third quarter when Kevin Fant was intercepted deep in his own territory by cornerback Corey Webster. That turnover led to John Corbello's 26-yard field goal.
Fant had a woeful afternoon, going 15-of-39 for 122 yards and two intercpetions. He was not helped by a bevy of dropped passes and a running game that gained 88 yards on 30 carries.
"It was very evident that we did not throw and catch very well and we had a lot of people that touched a lot of balls that would have been big plays," Sherrill said. "Some of them would have kept the chains moving and it would have made a difference. We didn't catch the ball well and of course if we would have caught the ball, then it would have been a better game for Kevin (Fant)."
After Brent Smith kicked a 52-yard field goal a minute into the fourth quarter to pull the Bulldogs within 24-13, the Tigers put away the game on their next drive.
But another mistake by the Bulldogs aided the march. On 4th-and-1 from inside the Mississippi State 2, LSU elected to go for a field goal, but the Tigers jumped offside and the play resulted in a first down.
Mauck scored on a two-yard keeper on the next play, making it 31-13 with 4:29 remaining.
Davis provided the early fireworks when he returned his punt for a touchdown less than two minutes into the game.
"It feels really good to finally get a touchdown on a punt return," Davis said. "Everybody was on their blocks and my boys did the job. We practiced all week long on that and had a lot of extra time to prepare since we were off. If everybody executes the way they are supposed to do, everything will work out fine. We played hard out there today, and it showed at the end of the game."
After Mauck lost a fumble in his own territory, Smith kicked a 21-yard field goal with 5:02 left in the first quarter to get the Bulldogs on the board.
Dontae Walker ran two yards for a touchdown with 9:15 left in the first half, giving Mississippi State a 10-7 lead. That score came two plays after Josh Morgan returned a fumble to the LSU 2.
But the Tigers answered that score, moving 71 yards in 10 plays - all runs - to take the lead. Davis capped the march with a five-yard run with 63 seconds left in the half.