No. 22 Ole Miss kept the faint hopes of its first SEC championship since 1963 alive with a 38-17 whipping of No. 15 LSU Saturday in Oxford.
After leading 3-0 after one, the Rebels jumped out to a 24-0 second quarter lead thanks to touchdown marches that totaled 150 yards and a one-play, 11-yard strike set up by a long interception return of Brandon Harris.
LSU, though, pulled within 24-17 from the close of the second quarter through the first five minutes of the third, but Ole Miss immediately responded with a seven-play, 83-yard drive capped by a Chad Kelly touchdown run, then put the capper on the game with a six-play, 57-yard push punctuated by a 36-yard Kelly pass to Evan Engram.
The win meant Hugh Freeze became the first coach since Houston Nutt to beat LSU, Alabama and Auburn in the same season. For what it’s worth: that 1998 Arkansas team did not play for that December’s SEC championship.
Kelly completed 19-of-33 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns (with no interceptions) and led the Rebels in rushing with 81 yards and two scores on 12 carries. Kelly passed Eli Manning for the Ole Miss single-season touchdowns record on an 11-yard touchdown run with 7:34 in the third quarter.
Robert Nkemdiche participated for ill older brother Denzel in Ole Miss’s senior day festivities, which was fitting considering it was likely his final appearance at Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium as well.
The Rebels (8-3, 5-2 SEC) need a win at Mississippi State Saturday paired with an Auburn upset of No. 2 Alabama. The Iron Bowl kicks before the Egg Bowl, meaning Ole Miss will know whether it plays for a championship or for pride by kickoff.
Now, about LSU.
The Tigers, No. 2 in the country just two weeks ago today, will likely find themselves outside the rankings tomorrow after losing their third straight in ugly fashion; LSU (7-3, 4-3 SEC) has now lost consecutive games to Alabama, Arkansas and these Rebels by a combined 99-47. In each loss LSU has allowed 30 or more and scored 17 or fewer.
A team reportedly playing for its head coach’s job played like it’d just as well return to Baton Rouge and help pack Les Miles‘ bags.
Harris was awful, completing 22-of-44 passes for 284 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He overthrew a wide-open Malachi Dupre when the Bayou Bengals had a chance to grab a 7-3 lead, tossed an interception to help push the deficit to 24 and, finally, blew the Tigers’ final chance to claw back in the game in the fourth quarter when a miscommunication with Leonard Fournette led to a turnover on downs at the Ole Miss goal line.
Speaking of Fournette, the one-time Heisman leader was quiet as a sedated bengal, rushing 25 times for 110 yards and no scores. After rushing for 16 touchdown in his first seven games, Fournette has totaled only two during LSU’s three-game skid.
The loss marks Miles’ first three-game losing streak in 11 seasons and 142 games on the job and means his Tigers will finish with at least three SEC losses for the third consecutive season.
LSU will fight for what’s left of their season – and the Les Miles era – next Saturday in Tiger Stadium against Texas A&M.