Fifty-three years after Billy Cannon’s immortal punt return beat Ole Miss to set up a Heisman Trophy run, LSU sophomore Odell Beckham Jr. ran the same distance as Cannon, against the same opponent, and down the same sideline in the same direction.
The similarities weren’t lost on LSU coach Les Miles as he recounted Beckham’s game-tying, 89-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 41-35 win.
“Is this Halloween?” Miles asked.
It may not have come on the same date as Cannon’s famous gallop, but Beckham’s return Saturday at Tiger Stadium was quite the treat for LSU fans who filed in to watch the Tigers play their final home game.
Ole Miss led 35-28 with a little more than nine minutes to play when Jim Broadway uncorked a booming 51-yard punt.
Beckham backpedaled to field the ball at his 11, then started to his left.
Joel Kight seemed to have Beckham in his sights, but the slippery return man made a move on the Ole Miss defender and then broke free from him. Beckham eluded one more would-be tackle, then hustled toward the right sideline and began his pursuit of a 35-35 tie.
A couple of LSU possessions later, Jeremy Hill cashed in from 1 yard out to send 15 seniors out on a winning note.
“If there’s one game ball that’s given, it’s given to Odell Beckham,” Miles said. “That was maybe the biggest momentum-changer in a game that I saw.”
Beckham couldn’t have picked a better time to change the game.
Ole Miss had taken control because of an offense that churned out 463 yards, beating the Tigers over the top for several big plays. Donte Moncrief had hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass minutes earlier, putting LSU on upset alert against a 19-point underdog.
Offensively, quarterback Zach Mettenberger had left the game on the previous LSU possession after taking a shot from Cameron Whigham.
Beckham’s second punt return of the year for a touchdown helped keep the Tigers from suffering an embarrassing loss in their home finale, helped allow LSU to remain in contention for a BCS bowl berth, and helping make sure the seniors bid farewell to Tiger Stadium on the right end of things.
“I ran down the sideline full speed to give him a hug and thank him for what he did,” LSU tackle Josh Dworaczyk said of his reaction to the Beckham score.
“He was playing for the seniors. He was playing out there for us.”
Beckham gave a statement on the punt return through LSU, but he did not make himself available to the media for interviews.