The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus hasn’t made an appearance in Louisiana since it played in the Smoothie King Center in June.
One could argue it came back to the Pelican State for the first half of LSU’s game against No. 3 Ole Miss in Tiger Stadium on Saturday night.
In the first 30 minutes of play, the sold-out crowd witnessed three fumbles, three dropped interceptions, three reviewed plays and a shanked field goal.
Name an event that could have gone wrong for the Tigers, and there’s a solid chance it occurred.
There was no hiding the fact that Ole Miss entered Death Valley as the clear favorites: The Rebels’ impressive 7-0 record included victories over Alabama and Texas A&M.
In a contest in which perfection was required to achieve an upset, LSU was far from flawless. LSU coach Les Miles’ club certainly had its opportunities to gain early momentum.
It began on LSU’s first possession.
With a combination of freshman rusher Leonard Fournette and senior Terrence Magee, the Tigers drove the length of the field to the Rebels’ red zone. Sophomore quarterback
Anthony Jennings was precise in his initial passing attempts, hitting Magee for a 32-yard gain and sophomore wideout Travin Dural for a critical first down.
On first down-and-10 on the Rebels’ 16-yard line, Fournette took a handoff and rumbled forward, rolling over a defender and avoiding a tackle by jabbing his right arm into the Tiger Stadium grass. He proceeded to thrust himself upward and sprint inside the Ole Miss 5-yard line. He was never ruled down.
Though replays appeared to show that neither Fournette’s knee elbow hit the ground, the officials ruled an inadvertent whistle. LSU elected to replay the down, gaining only 4 yards on the ensuing run.
LSU eventually attempted a field goal: a 28-yard try for the usually accurate Colby Delahoussaye, who had made 20-of-21 career field-goal attempts heading into Saturday.
He pulled the ball wide left.
It wasn’t the first missed opportunity for the Tigers offense.
The Tigers drove down to the Ole Miss 3-yard line with 2:33 remaining in the first quarter. On first and goal, Fournette was primed to score his eighth rushing touchdown of the season.
He never reached the end zone. Ole Miss senior linebacker Deterrian Shackelford forced a fumble, and the Rebels recovered behind the goal line for the touchback.
Magee also struggled to hold on to the football, losing a fumble with 13:10 remaining in the second quarter.
LSU had lost only four fumbles through its first eight games.
The Tigers defense didn’t miss its turn on stage.
With roughly six minutes remaining in the first quarter, Ole Miss senior quarterback Bo Wallace dropped back looking to hit sophomore receiver Laquon Treadwell over the middle of the field. Wallace’s pass was deflected by LSU freshman safety Jamal Adams, leaving a free football floundering in the air for an easy interception.
LSU senior safety Ronald Martin had the ball in his hands. Moments later, it was bouncing at midfield after slipping through his grasp.
It was of three LSU dropped interceptions in the first two quarters, with junior cornerback Jalen Collins letting two potential picks fall to the ground. After Collins’ first dropped interception, Wallace fired a strike in the end zone to junior receiver Cody Core.
In a contest that was decided by a field goal, LSU potentially left 10 points off the scoreboard, plus three crucial turnovers that could have prevented Ole Miss’ lone touchdown.