LSU linebacker Duke Riley’s third-quarter interception of Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly didn’t lead to the desired result Saturday night.
The No. 19 Tigers (5-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) took over at the Rebels' 25-yard line with a 10-point lead late in the quarter. But Danny Etling gave the ball right back to the Rebels three plays later, forcing a pass to D.J. Chark that was intercepted near the sideline.
That didn't make Riley’s interception any less special to him, though. It was the first of his college career, and he couldn’t believe it actually happened. He turned to fellow senior linebacker Kendell Beckwith for confirmation.
“Honestly, during the game, I was like, ‘Damn, Beck. Did I just catch an interception? Did that just happen just now?’ ” Riley said. “I was like, ‘Wow, that really just happened.’ ”
Riley had the best game of his career during a 38-21 victory against Ole Miss (3-4, 1-3), notching a career-high 14 tackles, including 1½ tackles for loss. With Riley manning the middle of the defense, directing traffic against the up-tempo Ole Miss offense, the Tigers pitched a shutout in the second half for the second straight game.
The interception was a long time coming, he said, but his performance against the Rebels wasn’t so much about one individual play.
“It was my third-to-last time playing in Tiger Stadium,” Riley said. “How will I leave my mark? How will I be remembered? Ole Miss embarrassed us last year. I just took that energy from last year going into this game that we weren’t going to get embarrassed anymore.”
Riley, who had played in 38 games with one start entering this season, isn't a flash in the pan. He’s second on the team in tackles, behind only Beckwith, and Saturday was his third game with double-digit tackles.
Riley claimed he should have had more than 14 tackles, but nothing could erase the smile on his face after the game, especially when answering questions about that interception.
Riley tracked Rebels receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow across the field and thought Kelly wouldn’t try to force the ball into tight space.
“So I’m just running with (Stringfellow), and I’m like, ‘There’s no way this guy’s going to throw this ball,' ” Riley said. “He threw it, and I was like, ‘Wow, thank you.’ "
Cornerback Donte Jackson had another productive night in the LSU secondary, grabbing his second interception of the season. It was Jackson’s third forced turnover of the season, and he leads the team with eight passes defended.
But Jackson was flagged three times for pass interference in the first half. Two of the penalties led to Rebels field goals. Jackson said he didn’t feel he was being targeted, but he believed the officials were quick to throw the flag.
“I don’t think they picked me on,” Jackson said. “I just think he was flag-happy. (Defensive backs coach Corey Raymond) just told me, ‘That’s not your job to even talk about what the refs did. You just got to keep playing, flush it out and just play the next play.’ ”
Like Raymond, fellow defensive backs Jamal Adams and Tre’Davious White told Jackson at halftime to move past the penalties because they believed his technique was not poor.
Said Jackson: “They just told me, ‘Keep playing your technique. I don’t see nothing wrong with what you’re doing. Just keep doing what you’re doing. They can’t throw it all night.’ ”