BATON ROUGE -- Towson barely registered a ripple on the radar of LSU players during the week leading up to Saturday's game at Tiger Stadium.
Wedged between LSU's first two SEC road games of the season -- and on the heels of a lackluster victory at Auburn -- pregame talk of Towson was mostly relegated to media questions about whether anybody in Baton Rouge had an idea where the school was.
Pretty safe to say Towson grabbed LSU's attention Saturday.
"I am extremely conflicted. I hate losing," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. "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."
Sparked by a defense that held its own much of the night and a running attack that did more damage than any other foe had this season, Towson threw a scare into the country's No. 3-ranked team on a rainy night at Tiger Stadium before falling 38-24.
"I think we played down to our opponent," LSU coach Les Miles said, adding that he was alarmed by his team's performance. "That was a somber locker room."
LSU pulled away with a 10-point burst in the second quarter and tacked on three touchdowns in the second half to extend the score. But Towson (2-2) certainly played the role of attention-getter to perfection.
Towson ran for 188 yards against a defense that entered allowing 56.8 per game and had the ball for 34 minutes. And the defense held firm until a pair of fourth-quarter drives that covered 70 and 71 yards.
Those two drives iced the victory in front of the fans who lingered to see the finish.
For a brief time in the second quarter, though, Towson led 9-7 after converting the second of three LSU fumbles into points.
It was a short-lived lead, as LSU marched down the field for a go-ahead touchdown and then tacked on a field before halftime to regain control.
The point was made, though: Towson wasn't going to back down.
After Towson took the 9-7 lead on the first of two Terrance West touchdown runs with 5:15 left in the second quarter, LSU flipped the switch.
A third-quarter touchdown gave LSU some breathing room and it was the product of a major mistake by the visiting Tigers.
The LSU offense came out clicking on its opening series of the half and churned out three first downs on three plays to move the ball to the Towson 18-yard-line.
Before too much momentum was established, though, Towson safety Jordan Dangerfield hammered Michael Ford on a sweep and defensive end Frank Beltre corralled the loose ball.
"We've been building toward this defensively, to force turnovers, to play as 11," Ambrose said. "We've been working toward it. Some nights we've had nine guys and 10 guys, 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."
As big as that gaffe looked, Towson trumped it moments later.
Towson forced an LSU punt with two sacks on the same series, but Jordan Love muffed the ball without much pressure on him. Jarvis Landry got the ball at the 8-yard-line and fullback J.C. Copeland punched it in three plays later for a 24-9 advantage.
For most of the initial 30 minutes -- minus one big play early and late push -- LSU seemed dazed and confused.
Towson didn't the move ball consistently, but took advantage of a pair of LSU fumbles to produce nine points in the second quarter and briefly take a lead.
LSU managed to right the ship right before halftime with 10 points on its last two series for a 17-9 lead.
After surrendering the lead, LSU came out with renewed intensity and hit Towson with a rapid-fire touchdown drive. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, shaky in the first half (8-for-16 for 91 yards), zipped a 27-yard strike to tight end Chase Clement to get LSU out of a hole.
Tailback Spencer Ware grinded out nine yards on two physical inside runs, and that set up the play-action, which Mettenberger executed well and heaved a 27-yard TD pass to Beckham.
LSU's defense forced a quick three-and-out and R.J. Peppers shanked a 6-yard punt to give the home Tigers possession at the 22. After Kenny Hilliard pounded out a first down with two runs for 11 yards, LSU couldn't do much and had to settle for Drew Alleman's 23-yard field goal.
The game began with a jolt of promise for LSU.
On the second offensive series of the night, Russell Shepard took an inside handoff, spotted a massive hole to the right and sprinted through.
The former five-star recruit dashed down the left sideline untouched until he got to the 5-yard-line where a defender had him. But Shepard dove and stretched just far enough to tag the pylon for a 78-yard touchdown run, the longest of his career.
That electric start soon fizzled as the LSU offense couldn't get moving in the boggy Baton Rouge night. Miles said he entered a somber locker room after the game.
"I must not well have inspired them. To say me made improvement," Miles said, "I can't say that. It's the same style of football we played last week."
Penalties (10), missed passes (11), three lost fumbles -- a general rainy-day malaise -- settled in and eventually Towson seized advantage and took the brief second-quarter lead.
Towson stayed in the game well into the fourth quarter, when LSU finally had the game in hand at 38-16 with 5:22 to play.
West scored twice but quarterback Grant Enders was more effective with his feet than arm for most of the game. He had 86 yards on 12 carries but completed 13 of 33 passes for 103 yards (3.1-yard average). His one touchdown pass, to Gerrard Sheppard with 1:30 left in the game, came when the game was out of reach.
Towson got on the board with D.J. Soven's 26-yard field goal early in the second quarter when LSU's Kenny Hilliard lost a fumble on a third-and-1 off-tackle play. Towson All-American safety Jordan Daingerfield pounded on the ball and the offense carved out two first downs on the same drive for the first time all night to set up the field goal.
With neither team able to move the ball much, Odell Beckham Jr. gave LSU a shot in the arm when he raced 30 yards on a punt return to put LSU near midfield halfway through the second quarter.
After Spencer Ware bulled his way for 13 yards and into Towson territory, the LSU drive imploded with an incompletion, a false start and disaster when Mettenberger spun to avoid a sack, raced to his left and coughed the ball up when he was sacked.
This time, Towson converted the mistake into six points, sparked by Enders' 43-yard burst on a quarterback draw on third-and-9.
West plowed in from the 1-yard-line and the upstart FCS Tigers led 9-7 (after missing the point-after) just before the five-minute mark in the second quarter.
It's not a game LSU players likely want to review any time soon. Their coach will no doubt use the effort as a reminder and motivational tool before visiting Florida.
"The missed tackles," Miles said. "I can't wait to see the film. We're going to tackle again, and again, and again."
NOTES: Towson had forced and recovered only one fumble before Saturday night. Against LSU, Towson pounced on three loose balls, two that led to points. ... LSU is off to a 5-0 start for the fourth year in a row and has won 41 consecutive regular-season games against non-SEC foes. ... LSU junior fullback J.C. Copeland left the game with a left knee injury. He left the sideline on crutches. ... Shepard's long TD run was the longest for LSU since former quarterback Jordan Jefferson rambled 83 yards on the first offensive snap against Tennessee in 2010. ... LSU is 8-0 all-time against FCS foes, 5-0 under eighth-year coach Les Miles. Of those five wins in Miles' tenure, three have been vs. ranked FCS opponents: Two over Appalachian State and Saturday's win. ... Towson earned a $510,000 paycheck for playing at LSU, considerably less than North Texas and Idaho received -- both got more than $900,000.