BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU coach Ed Orgeron compared his team to an overconfident fighter who drops his hands and subsequently gets "hit in the face."
Rather can get knocked out, the sixth-ranked Tigers woke up.
Nick Brossette scored three touchdowns, Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed for a career-high 136 yards and two TDs, and LSU beat Louisiana Tech 38-21 on Saturday night in a game infused with far more tension than expected.
"We won the game, but it wasn't good enough," Orgeron said. "Obviously, we're not happy."
The Tigers (4-0) were favored by about three touchdowns and raced to a 24-0 lead, only to see the Bulldogs (2-1) pull as close as 24-21 on J'Mar Smith's 42-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Hardy early in the fourth quarter.
"There was a letdown in the second half," Orgeron said. "We couldn't stop them. They kept us off balance."
Yet, when the game got tight, LSU immediately responded with a touchdown drive of its own, followed by a defensive stop on fourth-and-short, and then another touchdown.
"You could just feel that they were trying to mount a comeback," LSU tight end Foster Moreau said. "We knew we had to make a drive and make a couple of plays to put the game back out of reach."
Joe Burrow's 28-yard timing pass down the left sideline to Dee Anderson, who narrowly stayed in bounds as he made the catch in tight coverage, ignited a drive that produced Brossette's third TD on a 2-yard run in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Edwards-Helaire scored his second touchdown on LSU's next possession, shortly after the Tigers stuffed Smith's keeper on fourth down.
"We have two backs that are pretty good," Orgeron said. "That's what it takes in the SEC."
Burrow was 16 of 28 for 191 yards. He still has not thrown an interception this season but did lose his first fumble late in the first half on a sack by Jaylon Ferguson.
That turnover did not lead directly to opponent points, however, unlike two Louisiana Tech turnovers in the first half that set up LSU touchdowns.
Smith completed 27 of 50 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns, including a 20-yard strike to Hardy in the first half and a short fourth-down pass to Bobby Holly in the third quarter. Hardy caught 10 passes in all for 181 yards.
Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz said he was "so proud" of how his team competed, yet "so frustrated to be as close as we were and let it slip away at the end."
The Tigers "did the things they needed to do to win the game," Holtz added. "I'll second-guess myself on a lot of things. ... We've got to learn from it. We've got to grow from it."
Brossette finished with 78 yards on 23 carries. His second TD came after defensive back Kristian Fulton stripped Hardy and linebacker Devin White scooped the fumble and returned it 29 yards to the Tech 3.
Later in the half, senior safety Ed Paris made his first career interception on a pass deflected several times, initially by White.
On the next play, Edwards-Helaire broke loose along the left sideline for a 28-yard touchdown.
Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs defense forced five punts -- as well as the Tigers' first turnover of the season -- to give its explosive offense a chance to keep it close. A respectable performance in Death Valley should infuse the squad with confidence heading into Conference USA play.
LSU: The Tigers rested some key players including left tackle Saahdiq Charles and later lost left guard Garrett Brumfield to an apparent leg injury. The offensive line shuffle appeared to disrupt the Tigers' flow. Burrow had several throwaways under pressure.
LSU is likely to hold steady in the AP Poll unless voters decide the victory over Tech wasn't convincing enough.
Orgeron said the game marked the first time he and his staff felt compelled to sternly lecture a defense that has been largely exemplary this season and which has produced nine turnovers.
Players sounded eager to redeem themselves.
"We are going to be a whole different LSU team," White said. "We are going to be way better than we were tonight. I can promise you that."
LSU finished with 218 yards and all five TDs on the ground, continuing an early season trend of running effectively.
"We were able to get the push from the front five guys all night long. It allowed all the running backs to get to the second level so quick," Edwards-Helaire said. "That is something that as a running back you thoroughly enjoy. Then you don't have to negotiate your way through the line of scrimmage."
Louisiana Tech visits North Texas on Saturday night to open Conference USA play.
LSU hosts Mississippi on Saturday night.
For more AP college football coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25
Brett Martel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/brettmartel
Concerned Power 5 leaders remain in wait-and-see mode about on-time start for college football
As the number of coronavirus cases nationwide continues to rise, concern among Power 5 commissioners has mounted, though they recently told ESPN they still aren't ready to make any major changes to the college football calendar.
Fordham game in Hawaii canceled due to virus
Fordham has canceled its game in Hawaii due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Former MSU WR Andre Rison says assistant coach struck him
Former Michigan State wide receiver Andre Rison says he was slapped by an assistant coach in 1986.
Coronavirus testing a stress threat for athletic budgets
Facing the prospect of having to pay for testing of returning athletes and staff for the coronavirus, athletic departments are looking for ways to cut costs.
Top 10 moments in college football history
SportsCenter counts down the top 10 moments in college football history, including Alabama's goal-line stand in the 1979 Sugar Bowl and Vince Young's game-winning touchdown in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
Top-10 WR Isaiah Brevard says he'll attend Oregon
Isaiah Brevard, rated the No. 7 wide receiver in the ESPN 2021 300, committed to Oregon on Saturday.