OXFORD, Miss. — After watching its offense claw back from a 24-point first-half deficit to make it a one-score game early in the third quarter Saturday at Ole Miss, LSU’s once-solid defense knew it had all the momentum.
The only problem was, the Tigers couldn’t keep it.
LSU managed a touchdown late in the first half to cut a 24-0 deficit to 17 points at halftime before the offense scored 10 quick points in the first five minutes of the second half with the help of a special teams takeaway.
That’s where LSU’s hopes of ending a two-game losing skid ended with Ole Miss producing back-to-back touchdown drives of 83 and 57 yards that put the Rebels back on track for a 38-17 blowout in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The two-touchdown outburst, which came on an 11-yard dash by quarterback Chad Kelly to the pylon and a 36-yard tight end screen from Kelly to Evan Engram in a 4-minute, 2-second span, sealed LSU’s fate.
“It was a ball game at that point, so our defense has to go out and get a stop,” LSU defensive tackle Davon Godchaux said. “I think the guys on our defense take full responsibility for that.”
It certainly was a key segment.
“At any point in time, when you can steal victory when it’s a one-score game, that’s what you look at — whether it’s offense, defense or special teams,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “That is, at that point in time they have to come off (the field) and make a play.
“We really didn’t do that today, defensively or offensively for that matter.”
No one had to tell the LSU defense, which struggled for a third consecutive game.
The defense, which was ranked in the top 15 in fewest yards allowed in the FBS less than a month ago, gave up 30 or more points and 400-plus yards for a third game in a row.
Alabama won Nov. 7 with 30 points and 434 yards, Arkansas defeated LSU a week earlier with 31 points and 440 yards and Ole Miss had 422 yards to go with 38 points — the most points the Rebels have scored against the Tigers since winning 42-23 in 1999.
It was also the first time LSU had given up 30 or more points in three consecutive games since 2008.
While LSU gave up big play after big play most of the afternoon — Ole Miss’ potent offense had three runs of 15 yards or more and five completions of 20 yards or longer — the Tigers knew exactly where it got away from them.
After seizing the momentum when Nick Brossette forced Ole Miss kick returner Jaylen Walton to fumble and Donnie Alexander recovered after a 43-yard field goal by Trent Domingue, the offense did its job and cut the deficit to 24-17.
“We needed a stop,” defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said. “We got that fumble and we scored, and we felt like the momentum was really shifting our way. We felt like if we could get a stop, our offense would go down and score again and it would be a tie game.”
Kelly and Ole Miss took care of that, however, going 83 yards without facing a third-down situation — as it did on its first two touchdown drives in the first half — and then driving 57 yards for its final touchdown of the day.
“Definitely, definitely, we were back in it,” cornerback Tre’Davious White said. “We had the momentum, and we knew that our offense would put (the ball) in the end zone if we could just stop them.”
But it didn’t happen against Ole Miss, which finished with 432 yards — 280 passing and 152 rushing — after leading the Southeastern Conference in total offense (526.6 yards per game) and passing (348.8).
“We pride ourselves on stopping people, but it was tough to do it tonight,” White said. “It’s frustrating as a player, but we just have to continue to fight.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.