OXFORD, Miss. -- With rumors swirling about his job security, the last thing LSU coach Les Miles could afford was to start Saturday’s game against No. 22 Ole Miss the way his team did.
An assortment of early penalties, continued shaky play on offense and a handful of big plays by the opposing offense caused Miles’ Tigers to trail 24-0 in the first half before eventually falling 38-17.
Behind another solid performance by quarterback Chad Kelly (280 passing yards, two touchdowns, 81 rushing yards, two TDs), the Rebels kept their SEC West hopes alive entering next Saturday’s season finale at Mississippi State. Meanwhile, No. 15 LSU has lost three straight games for the first time since 1999 -- which had been by far the longest such streak in the SEC -- and has been beaten convincingly each time.
Let’s recap the Rebels’ victory:
What the win means for Ole Miss: For one thing, this keeps the Rebels (8-3, 5-2 SEC) alive in the SEC West race. Going into the final game of the season, Ole Miss can still win the division if it beats Mississippi State and Auburn beats Alabama. It’s an unlikely outcome, but the Rebels are still alive, mathematically. Credit Kelly for cleaning up his play lately. This is his second straight game without an interception, after he tossed at least one pick in seven in a row. That will serve the Rebels well if he can keep it up next week against State.
What the loss means for LSU: Les Miles Watch is officially on. The man has won a ton of ballgames at LSU (7-3, 4-3), but with stories circulating this week about the LSU administration's and boosters’ dissatisfaction with Miles’ recent job performance, it’s difficult to defend him when his team has turned in three consecutive flat outings. Give the Tigers credit for rallying in the third quarter to get within a score, but more bad defense and self-inflicted wounds helped Ole Miss pull away again. Maybe beating Texas A&M next week will help Miles’ cause, but the sloppiness that plagued the Tigers early in the season continues to be an issue -- and those problems are much more painful when opponents are as talented as Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss.
How the game was won: After LSU scored 17 straight points to cut Ole Miss’ lead to 24-17, the Rebels responded with a pair of quick touchdown drives to carry a 38-17 lead into the fourth quarter. Ole Miss' Zedrick Woods ensured a comeback wasn’t happening by intercepting a Brandon Harris pass at the Rebels’ 14-yard line at the end of the third quarter.
Unsung hero: Here’s a tip of the cap to the Ole Miss defense. The Rebels were coming off a rocky game against Arkansas, in which they surrendered 53 points and lost in overtime, but the defense played a key role as Ole Miss pulled away in the second half. They picked off two Harris passes (one each by Christian Russell and Woods), recovered a fumble (Marquis Haynes), made a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter and notched seven tackles for loss. LSU star Leonard Fournette (108 rushing yards, 72 receiving) still had a big night, and LSU totaled 508 yards on offense, but the Rebels made more than enough big plays to win comfortably.