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LSU quarterback Max Johnson (14) fumbles the ball while being facemasked by Mississippi defensive lineman Tavius Robinson (95) during the second half at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday Oct. 23, 2021, in Oxford, Miss. Ole Miss won 31-17. No penalty was called and Ole Miss recovered the ball.

OXFORD, Miss. — The coach with nothing left to lose knew he needed to score points whenever possible, so Ed Orgeron raised his right hand and formed a fist late in the first quarter. He looked across the field and swung down, unfurling his fingers as if he had released a pair of dice.

LSU had drawn an Ole Miss defensive lineman offside on fourth down. The penalty extended the Tigers’ second possession Saturday afternoon, giving them a chance to take a two-score lead inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Three stuffed runs later, LSU faced fourth down again from the 3-yard line. Orgeron went for it. This time, sophomore quarterback Max Johnson was flushed out of the pocket. He rolled to his left. Ole Miss had every receiver covered. Johnson threw a pass into tight coverage with no one open and no reason to hold onto the ball, and Tysheem Johnson picked it off.

“We knew we had to score points to beat this team,” Orgeron said. “So anytime we had an opportunity to score the most points, we did.”

Maybe No. 12 Ole Miss would have taken over with one of the most efficient offenses in the country anyway, but the game swung after the interception. Ole Miss scored 31 unanswered points, and LSU went from almost leading by two scores to losing 31-17 — a score that was narrowed late in the fourth quarter.

It was Orgeron’s first game since he reached a separation agreement with LSU (4-4, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) last weekend, which will take effect at the end of the season. He thought the announcement would help the team play loose this week. He believed it practiced well. But after controlling the entire first quarter, Orgeron lost to his former school for the first time.

“We just didn’t make the plays we were supposed to,” Orgeron said.

The discrepancy between the first quarter and the rest of the game was clear. LSU ran 23 plays, gained 144 yards and held onto the ball for 11 minutes in that period. The strategy, supported by a steady rushing attack and efficient passes, kept the fifth-highest scoring offense in the country off the field.

Then came the interception. Already leading 7-0 on a short touchdown run by junior Tyrion Davis-Price, the Tigers had moved easily down field. Ole Miss jumped offsides on the fourth down. Then Davis-Price rushed for no gain, 4 yards and a loss of one. Orgeron wanted to pull further ahead.

“I was fired up,” senior center Liam Shanahan said. “Coming into this game, we knew we were going to have to score points and be aggressive. It feels good to have the confidence of Coach O in our offense. After that, we feel like it stalled out a little bit.”

Ole Miss junior running back Snoop Conner gained 13 yards on the first play after the interception. Then he rushed for 9 yards and another 23 on consecutive plays, pulling Ole Miss (6-1, 3-1) from the edge of its own goal line to midfield. Though sacks by senior defensive tackle Neil Farrell Jr. and senior linebacker Damone Clark forced a field goal, LSU’s next drive fizzled.

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On first down from Ole Miss’ 39-yard line, Davis-Price gained 2 yards. Then Johnson threw an incomplete pass, freshman tight end Jack Bech dropped a ball and junior kicker Cade York missed a 55-yard field goal. It was his first attempt in three weeks.

The Tigers led 7-3, but Ole Miss controlled the rest of the game in front of the sixth-largest crowd (64,523) in stadium history. When the Rebels regained possession, they gained 19 yards on a reverse pass to the quarterback Corral, 22 on one run from Conner and another 29 by junior running back Jerrion Ealy. Corral threw a touchdown to give Ole Miss its first lead.

“It’s no excuses,” Clark said. “We’ve got to go out there and execute.”

Needing to sustain a drive with three minutes left in the half, LSU gained 2 yards on three plays. It punted after the three-and-out. Ole Miss responded with another touchdown drive, this one ending in a short run by Corral. The Tigers trailed 17-7, but as their offense stalled and Ole Miss surged, the score looked insurmountable without adjustments.

LSU never made them, while Ole Miss handled the gap blocking schemes that made LSU so effective a week ago and sent more blitzes. Davis-Price was held to 53 yards on 17 carries, an average of 3.1 yards per rush. Constantly flushed from the pocket and sacked three times, Johnson threw for 146 yards and no touchdowns.

“The protection wasn’t good enough for us to get the ball downfield,” Orgeron said.

LSU finished with 326 yards, 77 rushing. Only 182 of them came after the first quarter, and most of those were recorded with the game out of reach. The Tigers held the ball for 18 minutes between the second and fourth quarters, ultimately losing the time of possession advantage.

Ole Miss opened the second half with its fourth straight touchdown drive. Coach Lane Kiffin used a motion and play-action on the first play to spring sophomore running back Henry Parrish Jr. for a 34-yard reception. Parrish scored nine plays later. The Rebels finished with 266 yards rushing.

While LSU continued to stall, Ealy broke off a 36-yard touchdown run past safety Jay Ward. Ole Miss had scored 31 straight points, and while York paused the barrage with a field goal and freshman quarterback Garrett Nussmeier threw a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, LSU had fallen behind by too much.

Orgeron was 5-0 against Ole Miss, the school where he got his first chance as a head coach and was fired after three seasons. He walked to midfield to shake the hand of his close friend Kiffin. Then flanked by security, the coach walked back through the tunnel as the final stretch of his tenure began with a deflating loss.

Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com