OXFORD, Miss. — LSU assistant coach Frank Wilson rushed across the playing surface.
He arrived at the Ole Miss sideline, wedging himself between his players and those from Ole Miss during a fracas in the third quarter.
CBS cameras zoomed in on LSU players rushing toward those from Ole Miss. Benches cleared. An Ole Miss player threw a punch and was ejected. Wilson and the officials needed to shove the feisty Tigers and Rebels apart.
The nation saw it all. The country witnessed the meltdown of a football team on a chilly night in north Mississippi.
No. 25 Ole Miss bludgeoned mistake-laden LSU 38-17 on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, continuing a miserable month for a squad that has crumbled beneath their beleaguered leader.
LSU (7-3, 4-3 Southeastern) stumbled its way to a third straight loss for the first time since 1999 after falling into a 24-0 hole in the first half and racking up 13 penalties.
It was a flop on the big stage, a performance and outcome that will create even more buzz about the future of coach Les Miles. Miles, in his 11th year at LSU, pushed aside questions about his job security in his postgame news conference and said this week’s rumblings did not affect his team Saturday.
“I honestly do not,” he said when asked whether he felt like he was in danger of being fired. “I’m definitely in danger of feeling badly, and I feel that right now.”
The Advocate reported earlier this week that the coach is on thin ice and that he’s coaching for his job in LSU’s final two games — at Ole Miss and at home against Texas A&M.
This one won’t help him.
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly carved up LSU’s defense for 280 yards and two scores, and the Rebels intercepted LSU’s Brandon Harris twice. Running back Leonard Fournette ran for 108 yards, and the Tigers totaled more than 500 yards, but their porous defense showed up for a third straight week.
First-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s crew has allowed 30 or more points in three consecutive games. That hasn’t happened at LSU since 2008, the year the program fired co-defensive coordinators Bradley Dale Peveto and Doug Mallory. The Rebels scored their most points against LSU since 1999, the year the school fired head coach Gerry DiNardo.
“Got to keep our heads up and keep clawing to the end of the year,” linebacker Deion Jones said.
In front of an announced 60,705, Ole Miss got to celebrate a third win over LSU in the past four meetings in Oxford. The Rebels get to take back the Magnolia Bowl trophy — in a rout on senior day.
“Any time you win a rivalry game and get to hold that trophy for a year, it means a lot to the Rebels fans,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “One of the great joys I have is when we do get validated by what the scoreboard says, and we get to enjoy that for the next 365 days or so.”
In the third quarter, a tussle broke out near the Ole Miss sideline. LSU’s Jalen Mills, Jamal Adams, John Battle, Arden Key and Rickey Jefferson were involved in the commotion.
LSU assistants separated Tigers players from the Rebels, one of the many head-shaking showings on this day.
It was more of the same from a squad that has now suffered three straight losses by a combined 55 points. The loss to Ole Miss came after 30-16 and 31-14 losses to Alabama and at home against Arkansas.
“I can’t put (it) into words,” defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said. “It’s tough. Obviously frustrating. We just have to move on.”
The slide has been steep and stunning.
The Tigers entered the game at Bama No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, having started the season 7-0 with the Heisman Trophy frontrunner in Fournette.
They limped out of Vaught-Hemingway bludgeoned and beaten, with their coach having fielded a half-dozen questions about his job.
Miles has a contract that runs through 2019, and his buyout, before Jan. 1, is $15 million.
Players shot down talk of Miles’ future after the game.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” LaCouture said. “Coach Miles is our coach. We love him to death. We love him.”
“That’s our coach, and we’ve got his back 100 percent,” Jones said.
Miles said he would address his job situation with the team Monday.
He has bigger issues than that: Injuries are sweeping over the team. Receiver Travin Dural missed the second half with a hamstring injury. He was seen limping to the team’s bus after the game.
Running back Nick Brossette, on crutches after the game, suffered what is thought to be a serious ACL injury.
The biggest loss of them all: Left tackle Jerald Hawkins didn’t play after suffering an ankle injury last week. True freshman Toby Weathersby replaced him.
“Any time you put a different lineup ... it’s a different team. Different communication skills,” Miles said. “Lost a couple of guys. Certainly have lost some on-field chemistry.”
It was a disastrous start for the Tigers.
They were penalized eight times in the first 18 minutes of the game and allowed a 57-yard completion on the game’s first play — a busted coverage. On one play, the Tigers needed to call a timeout to avoid another penalty, and they punted from the Ole Miss 37-yard line, a kick that landed in the end zone for a net of 18 yards.
Trent Domingue missed a 27-yard field goal in the first quarter, his first miss of the season, as LSU tumbled into that 24-0 hole. Kelly started the game completing eight of his first 12 passes and finished 19-for-34. He hit receiver Laquon Treadwell four times for 58 yards and a touchdown as the projected NFL first-round draft pick worked against LSU’s Tre’Davious White, also projected in the first round.
“He’s one of the best,” White said. “It’s a battle of two of the best players. I wanted that challenge, followed him the whole game. He made some plays. I made some plays also. It’s going to happen when you’re going against one of the best.”
LSU scored 17 unanswered points after falling into that big hole to pull within 24-17 before its defensive collapse.
Ole Miss marched 82 yards for a score as Kelly hit open targets, and he ran into the end zone from 11 yards to make it 31-17.
On the Rebels’ next series, Kelly hit Evan Engram for a 36-yard touchdown pass on a screen play — the back-breaker in a sloppy defensive effort that sent LSU to a third straight loss.
“It’s not something I enjoy in any way,” Miles said. “Truth is, guys I work with — coaches and players — they work hard. It’s back to the drawing board.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.