OXFORD, Miss. - No. 1 LSU became the last unbeaten team among the BCS top five when No. 2 Oklahoma State was upset by Iowa State on Friday night.
When the Tigers took the field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium nearly 24 hours later, they didn’t hesitate to show how they have separated themselves from the pack. They jumped on outmanned Ole Miss for a defensive touchdown on the third play from scrimmage, rolled to a 21-0 lead after one quarter, added another defensive touchdown in the second quarter and steamrolled to a 52-3 victory.
This game had what nearly every LSU game has had this season - a fast start, a smothering defense, a big edge in turnovers (plus-3), a punishing running game and too much talent and depth for the opposition. The Rebels are one of the weaker teams vanquished during the Tigers’ historic march, but there a few teams that were ranked when LSU unleashed a similar assault, teams such as Oregon, West Virginia, Florida and Auburn..
“Everybody was on upset alert after (Oklahoma State’s) loss,” LSU safety Brandon Taylor said. “It really shocked me that they lost that game, but watching that game probably gave Ole Miss hope that they could beat us. We just had to come out and jump on them and show why we’re LSU.”
LSU is 11-0 and 7-0 in the Southeastern Conference, both firsts in school history. The only other time the Tigers won 11 regular-season games was the 2003 season, when they were 11-1 on their way to winning a BCS championship.
These Tigers stayed on track to possibly duplicate that national title. If they beat No. 6 Arkansas on Friday in Tiger Stadium, they will win the SEC West and play East Division champion Georgia in the conference title game Dec. 3 in Atlanta. They clinched at least a share of the West, and victories over Arkansas and Georgia would send them to New Orleans to play in the BCS Championship on Jan. 9.
“We look forward to our future,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “It’s something we’re really pointed to. I think this team really realizes what path it’s on. I think our football team recognizes that we control our destiny, and the things we need to do, we’re going to do.”
The Tigers extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 12 games, dating to last season. In the 100th meeting between these long-time rivals, LSU established its largest margin of victory.
Ole Miss is 2-9 and 0-7 after losing its school-record 13th consecutive SEC game in the second-to-last game of Houston Nutt’s four-year coaching tenure, during which he is 24-24. He fell to 6-8 against LSU, including his tenure as head coach at Arkansas. His resignation will take effect after the Rebels play at Mississippi State next week.
The Rebels played without three suspended players, most notably starting quarterback Randall Mackey, who played at Bastrop High, and leading rusher and kick returner Jeff Scott, who were disciplined Tuesday for violating team rules.
Scott was replaced by former Scotlandville star Brandon Bolden, who was playing his last home game. Bolden was injured early in the game but returned and finished with 58 yards on 13 carries
Zack Stoudt started in place of Mackey and threw incompletions on the first two downs of the game before being intercepted by Ron Brooks, who raced 46 yards for a 7-0 lead 28 seconds into the game.
A 1-yard touchdown run by Kenny Hilliard and a 22-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Jefferson, who made his second consecutive start ahead of Jarrett Lee, gave the Tigers a 21-0 lead after one quarter.
Stoudt, who went 3 of 8 for 17 yards and was sacked twice, was replaced by the much more elusive Barry Brunetti late in the first quarter. Brunetti was sacked by Michael Brockers for a 12-yard loss at the Ole Miss 1, then on the next play fumbled the ball in his end zone. Linebacker Kevin Minter fell on the ball for a 28-0 lead with 12:42 left in the second quarter.
“Our defense was extremely sharp to start,” Miles said. “That defensive score early was really kind of an indication of how the game went for our opponents.”
Brunetti brought some life the Rebels offense, scrambling around for gains of 11 and 15 yards, but they yielded no points.
After the Tigers’ lead grew to 35-0 on Spencer Ware’s 35-yard touchdown run, Brunetti scrambled for 47 yards on third-and-16. That moved Ole Miss to the LSU 27, setting up Bryson Rose’s 39-yard field goal that allowed the Rebels to avoid a shutout, but merely cut the Tigers’ margin to 35-3 at halftime.
“You can’t start a game the way we started, especially against a team like them,” Nutt said. “They are the number one team in the nation. You can’t give them gifts. One thing we didn’t want to do was have turnovers, especially to them so they could score points right off the bat.
“That was the worst thing that could happen. They are a really good football team and we helped them. They have an excellent defense, and there are no weaknesses.”
The Tigers were coming off perhaps their least inspired game of the season a week earlier. They held just a 14-7 halftime lead against six-touchdown underdog Western Kentucky before pulling away to a 42-9 victory. The players vowed not to have a similar slow start this week.
“In practice and in meetings, we talked about how we needed to jump on them fast and not let up,” Brockers said. “I feel like that’s what we did.”
In the second half, Michael Ford ran 19 yards for a touchdown, James Stampley ran 1 yard for another and Drew Alleman kicked a 29-yard field goal to complete the scoring.
“Last week, was very uncharacteristic of us,” linebacker Ryan Baker said. “We wanted to come out and play Tiger ball.”
LSU rushed for 353 yards, its highest rushing total since rushing for 360 against Ole Miss on Nov. 20, 2004. The Tigers outgained the Rebels 458-195.
It was the second consecutive SEC game in which LSU did not allow a touchdown, counting the 9-6 overtime win Nov. 5 at Alabama. The Tigers have not allowed more than one touchdown to any SEC opponent this season.
By the fourth quarter the stadium was nearly empty except for those dressed in purple and gold who remained to bask in the glory of the best 11-game start to a regular season in LSU history, and tied with Houston for the best in the country this season.
When third-string quarterback Zach Mettenberger sprinted 25 yards to a first down at the Ole Miss 1 with five minutes remaining, Miles decided enough was enough. He had Mettenberger kneel down four times to prevent further embarrassment for Nutt and the Rebels.
Miles was asked about that decision in his postgame news conference as chants of “L-S-U, L-S-U” echoed from the departing fans.
“At that point in time, I realized I didn’t want to score, so I told them to kneel on it,” Miles said. “Victory was assured. There’s no reason to take snaps at that point.”
The point had been made emphatically already by LSU.