For the second straight game, the LSU football team was tied at halftime with a team from Mississippi.
For the second game in a row, the LSU defense made sure it wouldn’t be so close in the end.
After battling Southern Miss to a 10-10 halftime tie Oct. 15, the LSU defense pitched a shutout in the final two quarters of the Tigers’ 45-10 rout.
On Saturday night, it happened again. No. 25 LSU came alive in the second half and blanked No. 23 Ole Miss after halftime, not allowing the Rebels to cross their own 35-yard line until the final minute en route to a 38-21 victory in Tiger Stadium.
While the offense did its part, especially when Leonard Fournette returned from an ankle injury and treated the crowd of 101,720 to a school-record 284-yard rushing night with lightning-quick touchdowns of 59, 76 and 78 yards, the defense stymied Ole Miss’ high-powered offense after the teams were tied at 21 at halftime.
“We just had to settle down and get comfortable out there,” linebacker Arden Key said after helping hold another team scoreless in the second half. “We felt like we were over-hyped in the first half and were making mistakes. So we came in at halftime and got on the drawing board and fixed it. We didn’t do anything different in the second half. … We just had to settle down.”
After Ole Miss jumped to a 10-0 lead on its first two possessions, including going 77 yards in eight plays to a touchdown the first time it had the ball, LSU’s defense dug in and started making a statement.
“We just tightened up the screws,” said cornerback Donte Jackson, whose second-quarter interception of quarterback Chad Kelly was the first of two for the Tigers.
While Fournette helped his team take control with a pair of long touchdown runs in the second quarter, all Ole Miss could manage was a field goal midway through the period and a touchdown just before halftime after LSU quarterback Danny Etling fumbled while being sacked.
Ole Miss cashed in with a short 9-yard touchdown drive, capped by Akeem Judd’s 2-yard run, and Kelly cruised in for a two-point conversion with 11 seconds left to make it 21-21 at halftime.
“We came in and were kind of upset because they had a touchdown on their first drive and they scored 21 points,” defensive end Davon Godchaux said. “But we didn’t allow a touchdown in the second half. That was big.”
Indeed, the LSU defense came out and asserted itself on Ole Miss’ first possession of the second half.
Judd gained 5 and 4 yards on the first two carries but was stuffed for no gain on third-and-1 by inside linebacker Duke Riley and Godchaux.
It turned out to be a pivotal play for LSU.
After an Ole Miss punt, Fournette bolted for a 78-yard touchdown run on the Tigers’ first snap for a 28-21 lead with 13:38 to play in the third period.
That third-down stop of Judd was the spark the defense needed to hold Ole Miss to just 104 yards in the second half and 325 for the game.
The Rebels came into the game averaging 39.7 points and 476.6 yards, but they never got anything going in the second half.
On their first six series after halftime, Ole Miss was forced to punt five times with three three-and-outs, a four-play drive and an interception. The Rebels’ best possession in that stretch netted just 12 yards.
The Tigers finished with two sacks, both on their second series of the second half.
Key sacked Kelly on first down and Godchaux, who had nine tackles, barged into the backfield and brought down Kelly for a 1-yard sack on third-and-9 to force a punt that Fournette quickly turned into seven points.
“We knew coming out in the second half that we needed a three-and-out,” Riley said. “We needed a stop.”
They actually got three three-and-outs in a row while Fournette continued his record-setting night.
LSU also intercepted two passes, the first by Jackson when Ole Miss was threatening to score after receiver D.J. Chark fumbled on a jet sweep. But Kelly gave it right back on first down when he dropped back and went for the end zone. He badly underthrew his receiver with Jackson pulling it down at the LSU 3.
In the third quarter, Riley, who finished with a game- and career-high 14 tackles, got the other interception of Kelly.
“Our defense is real. … It ain’t no joke,” a smiling Godchaux said. “The scary thing is we can get better on our run blocking and our technique.”