“I thought the offense was outstanding this last week in terms of how they prepared and how we played physically up front, and it showed in the game,” Tigers’ coach Nick Saban said. “That was the difference in the game – our ability to control the line of scrimmage and run the football.”
With a spotty passing game that has been all too typical for LSU (8-2, 5-2) this season accounting for just 81 yards of offense, the Tigers turned to the ground game.
Along with Broussard’s 26-carry performance, Joseph Addai added 107 yards of his own on 14 carries and each tailback punctuated their nights with a run of over 50 yards.
By themselves the Tigers’ tailback tandem outgained Ole Miss (3-7, 2-5) offensively, as the Rebels managed 254 yards combined through the air and on the ground.
That was thanks mostly to LSU’s defense, which in the second half allowed Ole Miss just 35 yards accumulated on 26 offensive plays.
“Defense stepped up in the second half and did a very nice job after playing probably as badly as we’ve played all year long in the first half, especially right before half to give up three points and the momentum of the game as we did,” Saban said. “Very uncharacteristic of how we should play and how we should expect to play on defense.”
The Rebels actually gained more yards on defense than on offense in the second half when with 11:15 to go in the third quarter Trumaine McBride intercepted an ill-advised pass from JaMarcus Russell.
McBride returned the pick 48 yards for a touchdown, giving the Rebels the lead for the first time in the game. Robert Lane rushed in for a two-point conversion, putting Ole Miss up by seven.
Lane served as part of the Rebels’ two-quarterback system against LSU and completed 4-of-13 passes for 23 yards. He did most of his damage with his feet, rushing for 43 yards on 14 carries.
Ethan Flatt went 6-of-12 for 75 yards, but also tossed two interceptions that were snagged by Jessie Daniels to help secure the decision for the Tigers.
Russell completed 6-of-19 passes for 66 yards for LSU, and Marcus Randall connected on 2-of-5 passes for 15 yards in limited action.
It would take time for LSU to answer with a 42-yard field goal from Chris Jackson with four seconds left in the third quarter to cut the deficit to four points.
Jackson’s kick capped a five-play, 65-yard drive which began back on the Tigers’ 10 yardline and was energized immediately by a 58-yard Broussard run. But LSU could move the ball only an additional seven yards.
The Tigers nearly added points on their previous drive by virtue of Jackson’s foot on a 47-yard field goal at the 4:50 mark. Jackson nailed the right upright though, and the kick fell harmlessly away from the goalpost instead of going through it.
“We have played outstanding on special teams, our specialists have been inconsistent as they were again today and I don’t know really what to do to address it,” Saban said. “Both those guys show consistency and accuracy in practice, Chris (Jackson) did hit a couple of nice ones today, but Ryan (Gaudet) missed another short one and it makes a big difference at the end of the game if you’ve got a six-point lead instead of a three-point lead – they’ve got to score a touchdown and go 95 yards to do it. That’s a lot different than having their field goal kicker, who’s a great kicker, getting anywhere close to where he can kick it and tie it up and put it in overtime.”
Ultimately, as has been the case in several games this season, LSU would need a fourth quarter comeback. Unlike most of those other comebacks, however, the Tigers would put together their game-winning drive fairly early in the fourth quarter.
With 13:25 remaining on the clock, LSU took possession on their own 39 yardline after an Ole Miss three-and-out.
Behind Broussard and Addai, the Tigers pushed the ball down to the Rebels’ 36 yardline before a pass interference call on Travis Johnson moved LSU to the 21 yardline. From there Broussard was relied upon completely, and after a gain of five yards he sliced through the middle of the field on a seven-yard run.
That carry marked Broussard’s 24th of the game, bringing his rushing total to 235 yards for the night.
“We just didn’t tackle very well or get off of blocks,” Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said. “That combination is a bad combination. We had times where people were in position to make the play for a minimal gain. Don’t make the play and their backs will make you pay.”
Over the course of the final 10:48, the Rebels ran 12 plays offensively, three possessions that consisted of a three-and-out, and two series that each ended with Jessie Daniels hauling in interceptions.
Daniels’ first pick came with just over three minutes remaining when Flatt found himself facing a third and 23 from his own seven yardline after being sacked on consecutive plays. The second was caught with just under a minute to go and effectively ended the Rebels’ chance at an upset.
“Basically on the interceptions, I just had a few keys that I noticed in the game when the quarterback would check and the hand signals that he was doing and the routes they would run,” Daniels said. “I made adjustments from that, and every time that he made an adjustment I pretty much knew the play that they were running by the check.”
For his part, Saban seemed pleased with the resiliency and character his team showed in again pulling out a win on a day that many mistakes were made.
“I think we played smart, I think Jimbo (Fisher) played smart and it was a great win for us,” Saban said. “And as I said at the beginning of the week, this game is always a difficult game for us. This is the third time we’ve won, and this is as large as the margin of victory gets. It’s three points.”
Early Doucet barely missed giving the Tigers their first score on a 48-yard bomb from Russell that seemed to simply slip off of his fingers, but LSU wouldn’t have to wait long before another big play presented itself.
Facing a third and one, Broussard broke through the heart of Ole Miss’ line and rambled for a 44-yard gain that placed the Tigers at the Rebels’ four yardline. Three plays later he would cover the final yard needed to cross the goal line with 11:35 to go in the first quarter.
The 74-yard drive lasted eight plays and consumed 3:25 off of the clock.
Ole Miss would answer, but thanks to a sack and then a demonstrative PBU by Marcus Spears against Lane the Rebels had to settle for a 49-yard field goal from Jonathan Nichols to cap an 11-play, 61-yard drive.
Despite a 31-yard return on the ensuing kickoff by Addai to the LSU 43-yardline, the Tigers went three-and-out. But a pair of penalties negated a Mike Espy return to pin the Rebels at their own five yardline before a three-and-out of their own.
LSU added to their lead before the end of the first quarter with a one-yard effort from Broussard that saw the tailback spin to his left to breakout of a potential tackle after being stopped at the one yardline initially on a third and goal.
Russell completed a 14-yard skinny post to Craig Davis on third and eight earlier to keep the drive alive, and an 18-yard completion to David Jones set up a first and goal from the one for LSU.
The nine-play, 45-yard drive took up the final 4:10 of the first quarter.
Another field goal from Nichols, a 27-yarder with 12:29 remaining in the second quarter, would answer the Tigers’ touchdown. The kick brought to an end a five-play, 15-yard drive that was aided greatly by a 62-yard kickoff return combined with an illegal block in the back penalty to give Ole Miss a first and 10 at LSU’s 25 yardline.
Without a response from LSU, the Rebels drew close thanks in large part to a fake punt by Cody Ridgeway that netted 22 yards. It was followed by a 37-yard from Vashon Pearson to give Ole Miss a first and goal at the Tigers’ five yardline.
Lane would cover the final four yards of the nine-play, 88-yard drive himself, and Nichols’ PAT with 7:10 before the half made the score 14-13 in the Tigers’ favor.
Randall went under center for LSU’s next possession, and after a marathon 6:03 possession lasting 14 plays, the Tigers added slightly to their one-point lead with a 51-yard field goal by Jackson with 1:07 left in the second quarter.
Jackson’s jubilation would be short-lived, however, as his follow-up kickoff landed out of bounds to give Ole Miss possession at their 36 yardline.
With no timeouts, Flatt led the Rebels on an eight-play, 60-yard drive that ended with Nichols booting a 22-yard field goal to pull Ole Miss within one again after time was added back onto the clock much to the chagrin of Saban.
“Well because he (the referee) held the clock up, let them make their substitutions, let them line up for a field goal, put three seconds on the clock, which allowed them to kick a field goal,” Saban said. “He didn’t tell me anything. But he basically gave them three points. I was not real pleased, and they can fine me or whatever they want, alright, with this crew. I mean I wasn’t pleased at all.”