BATON ROUGE – Welcome back, LSU.
It has been too long.
The unranked Tigers beat a top 10 team here at Tiger Stadium for the first time since their 2019 national championship season by derailing the Lane Train of No. 7 and previously undefeated Ole Miss, 45-20, in front of 100,821 on Saturday afternoon.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin’s much ballyhooed offense went off the tracks in the second half after leading 20-17 at halftime and by 17-3 early in the second quarter. It was a rare second half shutout for Kiffin, and Ole Miss’ worst loss since a pre-Kiffin, 35-3 setback to Mississippi State in 2018. LSU outscored Ole Miss by a whopping, 42-3, from early in the second quarter on.
LSU, ranked only once all year at No. 25 early this month before losing 40-13 at home to then-No. 8 Tennessee at home, now looks to return to a longer stay in the polls after spending all of 2021 not ranked after the first week.
The Tigers (6-2, 4-1 SEC) are also tied for first in the SEC West with Ole Miss at 3-1 and Alabama at 4-1 after the Tide defeated No. 24 Mississippi State, 30-6, Saturday night.
And first-year LSU coach Brian Kelly is now 2-0 in back-to-back weeks against coaches who were listed as candidates for the job he got last December – Florida first-year coach Billy Napier via Louisiana-Lafayette by 45-35 last week and Kiffin this week.
Alabama Is Next For LSU
And bring on Bama, by the way.
LSU takes its open week now before a Nov. 5 home date against No. 6 Alabama (6-1). And goodness gracious, that will likely be in the coveted night time in Tiger Stadium in the ESPN time slot. No. 1 Georgia will likely be hosting No. 3 Tennessee in the 3:30 p.m. CBS game on Nov. 5.
Before Saturday, the Tigers had lost three of their previous four games to top 10 opponents – 20-14 at No. 3 Alabama last year during a 6-7 season, 55-17 to No. 1 Alabama in 2020 and 20-7 at No. 5 Texas A&M in 2020 with an upset at No. 6 Florida during a 5-5 season two years ago. The losing season last year was LSU’s first since 1999 – pre-Nick Saban.
In LSU’s 15-0 season in 2019, the Tigers beat an NCAA record seven top 10 teams.
“Look, at the end of the day, when you have a top team coming in, that’s why you come to LSU,” said Kelly, who just came to LSU less than a year ago. “And our best players played their best, and we needed that.”
That would be blossoming quarterback Jayden Daniels, who rushed for 121 net yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns while completing 21 of 28 passes for 248 yards and another two touchdowns. The rushing yards was the most by an LSU quarterback since Carl Otis Trimble had 133 in 1974.
Daniels set LSU records for rushing touchdowns in a season with his eighth and for rushing yards in a season with 524, breaking the mark of 450 by Jordan Jefferson in 2010. And he has four regular season games left. Joe Burrow and several other LSU quarterbacks had seven rushing touchdowns in a season.
And there was also true freshman linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. of Cypress Park, Texas, who had five tackles with a sack and two quarterback hurries.
“He was the best linebacker in the country out of high school,” said Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart, who was sacked three times and hurried six while completing 19 of 34 passes for 284 yards, but no touchdowns.
LSU Could Finish 9-3, So Brian Kelly SEC Coach Of The Year?
Linebacker Micah Baskerville had nine tackles and hurried Dart into a critical interception on a second-and-goal play from the LSU 9-yard line late in the third quarter with LSU leading by 24-20. Dart had driven the Rebels 66 yards, having completed two passes for 36 yards. Safety Joe Foucha picked it off in the end zone, and Ole Miss never sniffed a touchdown again.
“The momentum really shifted there,” Kelly said.
The Tigers are far from that 2019 team, but they sure looked as dominant in the second half on this day. LSU also has a sixth win in October for the first time since 2019. And Alabama has not looked like its usual self this season.
Even with a loss to Alabama, LSU looks like it could win out to finish 9-3 as its remaining opponents are an average Arkansas on the road, Alabama-Birmingham and the regular season finale at an average Texas A&M.
Before the season, I said if Kelly won eight games, he should be SEC coach of the year. As it turns out, he could be close to matching his $10 million-a-year salary with a win for each million, counting the bowl.
Rebels Looked Nothing Like A West Leader
For Ole Miss (7-1, 3-1 SEC) and Kiffin, the magical season is over. The Rebels apparently were not what they were said to be. The schedule was soft until Saturday. They can still have a very good season, but Ole Miss did not look like an SEC West champion or College Football Playoff team on Saturday.
“Now, we’ve got to regroup, handle a loss like a lot of teams in the country,” Kiffin said. But he does have Texas A&M next week on the road, which should help. The Aggies (3-4, 1-3) lost 30-24 at South Carolina Saturday night.
“There’s not a lot of time to sit around and mope,” Kiffin said.
LSU slapped the Rebels around in the second half like they were a non-conference opponent. After running and throwing well all season for a very well-balanced attack under Kiffin, Ole Miss could do neither in this game.
And Ole Miss’ defense, which came into the game with decent numbers at No. 6 in the SEC and No. 34 nationally in total yards allowed at 346 yards a game, was shredded in the second half by the Tigers.
The Tigers staged a clinic against Ole Miss in the fourth quarter to put the game away, driving 80 yards in 10 plays over 4:45 for a 31-20 lead and 80 yards in seven plays over 3:05 for a 38-20 lead.
And bring on Nick Saban.
Kelly as Notre Dame’s coach twice coached against Saban as Alabama’s coach, losing the BCS national championship, 42-14, in the 2012 season and falling 31-14 in the College Football Playoffs in the 2020 season.
Kelly will still not have as much talent on his roster, but this Alabama team is not like those. LSU will have a chance, especially if it’s at night.