Other rivalries may have dimmed the luster of LSU-Ole Miss: the national importance of LSU-Alabama or the geographic volatility of LSU-Texas A&M.
But in terms of sheer drama, LSU-Ole Miss delivers over and over again, like no other rivalry the Tigers have.
Forget the anomaly of LSU’s 52-3 mortar shelling of Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., last season, against a Rebels team that had long since packed it in. Saturday’s 41-35 LSU victory was more the norm, and an adrenalin-filled syringe that reminds us why when the Tigers and Rebels lock up, it’s often still special.
This game had enough earth-shaking momentum changes for a half-dozen Earthquake games.
There was the passing and running of Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, the touchdown runs of Jeremy Hill and courageous throws of Zach Mettenberger, seven turnovers in all and what seemed like the umpteen times the Tigers looked like they would bleed to death in the red zone.
The fourth quarter was epic.
The Tigers scored on a short run by Hill, then Wallace hit Donte Moncrief with a 30-yard strike to put the Rebels back in front 35-28.
LSU’s chances then seemed to fade to a gasp. The Tigers went three-and-out on their next possession as Mettenberger got shaken up.
LSU punted, but Ole Miss returned the favor from its 38, setting the stage for what looked like scripted drama.
As long shadows crept across the floor of Death Valley and turned a day game into night, Odell Beckham Jr. awaited Jim Broadway’s punt deep in LSU’s south end.
With Billy Cannon himself watching from a suite near where his name is stamped in bright lights on the east-upper-deck facade (earlier Saturday, he was signing autographs at the LSU team hotel across campus), Beckham grabbed the 51-yard kick at his 11, shook off an arm tackle by Joel Kight at the 23 and eluded a diving Mike Marry at the 25, setting sail up the Rebels’ sideline into the north end zone on an 89-yard punt return. It was so much like what Cannon did against Ole Miss on Halloween night 1959 it was eerie.
“Wasn’t the Billy Cannon return 89 yards?” LSU coach Les Miles asked. Yes, it was. “Wasn’t it really the same route?” Pretty close. “Was it the same night? Is this Halloween?”
“I was on a roll there for awhile,” Miles said with a playful snap of his fingers.
After the Rebels missed a 53-yard field goal, a confident LSU team then marched methodically for the winning score, a 1-yard leap by Jeremy Hill with 15 seconds left.
After that, the game included one last ode to LSU-Ole Miss games past, as a pass by Rebels quarterback Barry Brunetti that Eric Reid intercepted was called back because Brunetti first stepped out of bounds at his 29.
Officials set the clock to three seconds. Back in 1972, disgusted Ole Miss fans suggested setting clocks back 4 seconds when crossing into Louisiana after the Tigers ran two plays in the final :04, with Bert Jones finding Brad Davis for the winning score as time expired in the south end zone.
“Was that 3 seconds, or 4?” Jones asked afterward, clearly enjoying the parallel.
The Rebels had one last chance at a Stanford-Cal finish, but a forward lateral finally ended this one.
For Ole Miss, it was a painful yet meaningful building block.
For LSU, especially its 15 seniors, a closer-than-expected win made their swan song even sweeter.
“It is,” sixth-year offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk said. “It’s Ole Miss. It’s a huge rivalry. It’s a historic matchup.”
It is, still, in many ways, as good as it ever was.