LSU's offense often stuttered and sputtered against Ole Miss on Saturday, with quarterback Matt Mauck throwing three interceptions, including one the Rebels returned for a touchdown.
But the defense? Well, the defense was in championship form against a dangerous Ole Miss offense led by quarterback Eli Manning.
"The defense played and competed like gangbusters," LSU coach Nick Saban said.
The Tigers (10-1, 6-1 SEC) busted the Rebels by holding the Ole Miss offense without a point until the fourth quarter. Then, with the game on the line, the Tigers held the Rebels without a point on their last three scoring opportunities.
Of course, it helped that usually reliable Ole Miss kicker Jonathan Nichols missed two makeable field goals and that Manning tripped over his own lineman and fell harmlessly to the ground on a fourth-down play with 1:50 left in the game, but the Tigers did their part to stop the Rebels and overcome their offensive struggles.
"I think sometimes it helps that the ball bounces in your direction, whatever you call that, but I also think the way you compete in the game makes it bounce your way," Saban said. "Our defensive players went in there time and time again and made plays when they had to."
Because of that, the Tigers are one victory away from winning the SEC West and playing for the SEC championship for the second time in three years. If Ole Miss loses to Mississippi State on Thanksgiving night, the race is over. If Ole Miss wins, LSU must beat Arkansas at home on Friday. If the Rebels win and the Tigers lose, Ole Miss will win the West and play in the SEC championship game.
The victory at Ole Miss also produced bigger, better goals for the Tigers. With Ohio State losing at Michigan, the Buckeyes will fall from the No. 2 spot in the Bowl Championship Series standings. That leaves No. 3 USC and No. 4 LSU as the two highest-rated one-loss teams left in the mix for the national championship game, along with top-ranked and undefeated Oklahoma.
USC (10-1) probably didn't gain as many computer strength-of-schedule points by beating UCLA 47-22 on Saturday as LSU did by beating 15th-ranked Ole Miss. This week, USC plays 7-4 Oregon State while LSU plays 8-3 Arkansas. LSU will also benefit from playing in the SEC championship game -- if it wins the game.
But first things first: LSU must beat Arkansas on Friday.
"I think we've been pretty mature about the whole thing," LSU defensive end Marcus Spears told the Baton Rouge Advocate. "We've been playing good football, and that's what we want to continue to do. As far as any pressure on us or anything like that, I don't feel it. As long as we come out and play our type of game and come out and give 100 percent, we'll be successful most of the time."
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