“I am proud of the way our players
competed,” LSU head coach Nick Saban said. “They faced a lot of adversity. We
fought through turnovers and bad field position. We could have melted down, but
they showed a lot of character.”
The Tigers (10-1, 6-1 in SEC) won
its 10th game. The 10 wins for LSU marks only sixth time in school
history and just the third time a Tiger squad has garnered 10 wins in the
regular season; the first time since 1958. Saturday’s win sets up a critical
regular season finale at 2:30 on the day after Thanksgiving with the Arkansas
“We got a good victory tonight over
a good team,” said LSU defensive tackle Chad Lavalais. “We have to go out Monday
and focus on Arkansas.”
Eli Manning’s home finale was
spoiled as was his Heisman Trophy campaign as the Tiger defense harassed the
youngest of the Manning clan into completing just 16 of 36 passes for 200 yards.
LSU limited the Rebels offense as a whole to a paltry 227 yards and only one
“They are definitely the best
defense we’ve seen this year,” said Ole Miss head coach David Cutcliffe. “They
are as good as anyone in the country.”
Manning had the opportunity to
engineer a game-winning drive with less than two minutes remaining, but stumbled
when an offensive lineman stepped on his foot and turned the ball over on downs
all but ending the threat.
“It was a drop back pass and they
were overloading the side and (Eli) had the protection sliding,” Cutcliffe said.
“He just got stepped on. That can sometimes happen. I asked him who and he
didn’t know exactly who stepped on him. You never know what would have happened.
It was just unfortunate.”
Just minutes earlier, Rebel kicker
Jonathan Nichols, who ranked as the top kicker in the SEC, missed a 36-yard
field, which would have tied the game. It was one of two misses on the day –
Nichols also pushed a 47-yarder in the second quarter.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to
Jonathan yet,” Cutcliffe said. “Sometimes you just miss them. Nobody is
The Tigers look for their second
berth in the SEC Championship Game for the second time in three seasons when
they welcome Arkansas Friday. LSU also inches its way up the Bowl Championship
Series poll with Ohio State’s 35-21 loss at rival Michigan.
“We don’t worry about all that
stuff on the side,” Lavalais said.
Saban complimented his team’s
composure in what was one of the Tigers’ uglier games of the season.
“It was a hard fought game, and
honestly, it was shame someone had to lose,” Saban said. “But I am proud we came
away with the win. We have some fixing to do. When you win, sometimes it is hard
to make people want to fix things. It wasn’t always pretty, but they showed a
lot of maturity.”
LSU quarterback Matt Mauck overcame
three interceptions and a trio of sacks but still managed to toss the game
winning touchdown pass to Devery Henderson on the first play of the fourth
However, the game could have spun
out of control on the Tigers first offensive play of the game.
After forcing an Ole Miss punt on
its first offensive possession, the Tigers faced poor field position at their
own seven. Mauck bootlegged on a play-action pass and flung a pass intended for
Michael Clayton. However, the errant offering hit Ole Miss defensive back Travis Johnson squarely in the hands as he danced the other way for a 6-yard return for
“The first was a rollout and I led
Michael Clayton too much,” Mauck said.
Clayton drew a great deal of
attention most of the afternoon facing double and triple coverage. That was the
case on the Johnson’s interception for the quick six.
“We’ve been practicing hard and we
knew (Michael) Clayton is a big receiver and he was going to get the ball a lot
today,” Johnson said. “It was the first play of the game and I knew it was going
to be a pass play so I just stuck on him the whole time and made a big
had nine catches for 83 yards and a touchdown Saturday.
Shaken but not rattled, the LSU
offense collected itself and answered the Rebels’ charge. The Tigers sapped over
seven minutes from the clock on a 15-play, 52-yard drive resulting in a 45-yard,
Chris Jackson field goal.
“One thing I will say is Matt
(Mauck) did a fantastic job of not getting frustrated,” Saban said. “He has a
tendency to press because he is such a competitor. But it was key for him to
help us have the success we did.”
The Rebels continued to fluster
Mauck and the Tiger offense most of the first half. LSU struggled running the
football and Mauck tossed the second of three interceptions leaving the door
wide open for an Ole Miss assault. However, while LSU struggled putting points
on the board, the Tigers amassed an impressive 22 first half yards.
“I did not think we had our
personality,” Saban said. “I do not think we looked like ourselves. The staff
did the best we could to get them to focus on the game and execute. We wanted
them to focus on the game and execute.”
While LSU spent most of the first
half scratching its’ collective heads offensively, Ole Miss endured much of the
same frustrations. The Rebels’ offense, which ranked No. 1 in the SEC, mustered
a mere 79 first half yards, including a paltry 11 yards on the
“They were pressing our receivers
and making it hard for them to get off the line,” said Ole Miss running back
Vashon Pearson. “They were bringing everybody else and it was hard to pick
LSU finally managed some offensive
consistency late in the second quarter. Following a flurry of punts, miscues and
mistakes, the Tigers gained possession at their own 29 with 5:13 remaining in
Bolstered by a 44-yard run by
freshman tailback Justin Vincent, the Tigers penetrated the Rebels’ red zone.
Mauck hit Clayton twice inside the 17, the first covering 11 yards, the second
completion coming from nine yards for a 10-7 LSU lead. Mauck flung the pass in
the right flat, picked up a key block from Rodney Reed, and raced to the goal
The third quarter became a battle
of field position as each desperately fought for advantage. However, both teams
combined for just 58 total offensive yards in the third quarter.
LSU gained possession just before
the end of the third stanza at its 31. A 2-yard Mauck scramble, coupled with an
11-yard pass propelled the Tigers in the final period with the ball at their own
With one of the few big plays of
the game, LSU opened the fourth quarter with an insurance touchdown that put the
Tigers over the top. Mauck dropped back and found Henderson streaking down the
left sideline. The same play on which Henderson scored the opening touchdown of
LSU’s 31-7 win over Auburn; Henderson danced 53 yards for a 17-7 Tiger
“We didn’t play well during the
game,” Mauck said. “But we made the plays when we needed to.”
Manning and the Rebels felt a sense
of urgency as time was running down and they were on the wrong side of a
10-point deficit. The senior signal caller overcame a pair of sacks, took
advantage of a key defensive holding call and a 43-yard desperation heave to
Bill Flowers to lead Ole Miss into the end zone cutting the lead to 17-14.
Manning hit Brandon Jacobs on a 10-yard circle rout for the fourth quarter
score, making an already tense ball game tighter.
“We just started making plays,”
Manning said. “We were picking up protection and receivers were catching balls.
I was more accurate than I was in the first quarter.”
“We just made up our mind that we
had to get it done,” said Ole Miss wide out Chris Collins. “It wasn’t just one
particular thing that got us going in the fourth quarter. We challenged
ourselves to make plays and we did.”
Once the Rebels closed the gap, the
LSU defense, which had controlled the tempo of the game, seemed to be on its
collective heels. Ole Miss regained possession with 8:34 left to play. Utilizing
a newfound rushing attack, the Rebs drove the ball to the Tigers’ 18-yard line
and faced a third and four. Manning’s pass was off the mark and forced a
Nichols’ field goal attempt.
“It was never about what they did,”
said LSU cornerback Corey Webster. “We didn’t execute on defense. It was all
about what we weren’t doing and getting our defense together.”
Nichols’ offering sailed wide right
as Ole Miss watched their chances of an overtime showdown diminish. The rowdy
Vaught-Hemingway crowd sat silent, this time almost realizing its
The Rebels would get two more
opportunities, both of which went for naught. Manning tripped over a lineman’s
foot on fourth down at the Ole Miss 32 and a Hail Mary heave fell short as time
“We put ourselves in a
position to have a chance to win,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s what we intended to
do, and knew it wasn’t going to be easy. As I said at the beginning, I am proud
of our effort and proud of what we did. Now we have to put it behind us and move