OXFORD, Miss. (AP)—So many unusual things happened in the final 3 minutes of Mississippi’s victory Saturday against No. 10 LSU, it got confusing.
Even for the participants.
“I don’t know what all happened down there at the end,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. “I just know the scoreboard read 25-23 Ole Miss Rebels.”
Nutt’s confusion was nothing compared to what was happening on the LSU sideline as precious seconds ticked off the clock with less than a minute left and the game on the line.
The Tigers were divided over what plays to call, lost 17 seconds when the team tried for a timeout and didn’t get it, and there was admittedly no backup plan when LSU went for the end zone on the last play of the game and came up short at the Ole Miss 5 with 1 second left.
“I can only tell you that the management at the back end of the game was the issue,” LSU coach Les Miles said, later adding: “It’s my fault that we didn’t finish first in that game.”
When reporters asked Miles which coach decided to try to spike the ball before the clock restarted rather than going for a field goal, he said he wasn’t yet sure and would have to find out. Jordan Jefferson and the Tigers never got lined up anyway and Ole Miss earned its second straight win over the Tigers and the first at home since 1998.
Nutt has beaten LSU four straight times with Ole Miss and Arkansas and has never experienced anything like it.
“You were holding your breath every play,” he said.
It was the first time Ole Miss (8-3, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) beat LSU (8-3, 4-3) in consecutive seasons since 1997-99. The win also gives the Rebels the inside track to second place in the SEC West, which could lead to a better bowl spot when invitations are handed out.
Until the final quarter it was a game only a defensive coordinator could love. But things got interesting fast.
First Dexter McCluster, who ran for 148 yards, completed the first pass of his career with a 27-yard scoring strike to a wide-open Shay Hodge, giving Ole Miss a 22-17 lead 29 seconds into the final quarter.
On their next drive, the Rebels appeared to put it away with a 15-play, 8:26 drive that ended with a short field goal to make the lead eight points.
Jefferson answered with a 10-play, 66-yard drive that ended with his second touchdown pass to Rueben Randle, a 25-yarder that left LSU with a 2-point conversion to tie it.
Ole Miss’ Cassius Vaughn was called for pass interference on a fade to the left corner of the end zone, putting the ball at the 1. Jefferson made the same pass on LSU’s second attempt, but was hurried by Kendrick Lewis. The ball and Vaughn arrived at the same time and Terrance Toliver couldn’t make the catch.
But Brandon LaFell recovered the onside kick with 1:16 left at the LSU 42, giving the Tigers one last chance. LaFell gave his team another big boost when two plays later he took Jefferson’s pass, broke two tackles and ran 20 yards after the catch to move LSU into field goal range at the Ole Miss 32.
Here’s where it got sketchy for LSU. Kentrell Lockett forced Jefferson to throw his first pass away, then the quarterback was sacked by Emmanuel Stephens, a play that pushed the Tigers all the way back to the Ole Miss 41.
“We talked about runs,” Miles said. “I felt like the quarterback could manage the situation. That was my mistake.”
Miles said he suggested to assistant coaches that they call a run play at that point, but allowed a pass play to be signaled in. Jefferson completed a 7-yard pass to Stevan Ridley with 26 seconds left and Miles said he thought he heard timeout being called.
But the referees never got the message and 17 seconds ticked off the clock before coaches realized what was happening, leaving LSU with fourth and 26 at the Ole Miss 48 with 9 seconds left.
“The clock ran down, timeouts were being called verbally and I didn’t relate that to the official apparently and that was the mistake,” Miles said.
The team was going for the end zone on the last pass play, he said, and when Jefferson found Toliver in traffic at the 6 with a second left, the team was unprepared. Rather than run the field goal unit on field while there appeared to be confusion with the chain gang, Jordan tried to get the team lined up to spike the ball but never got the play off.
“I know there was a lot of confusion on the sideline,” said Jefferson, who rallied the Tigers with 120 yards passing and a touchdown in the fourth quarter. “Nobody knew what to do.”
Ole Miss fans rushed the field and celebrated with the Rebels while several LSU players dropped their helmets to the field in dismay.
Despite all the confusion, Vaughn said the Ole Miss defense knew exactly what was going on as the Tigers foundered making a final decision.
“You have to have a plan,” Vaughn said. “I’m looking at the ref waiting for him to call the play. As soon as I hear the whistle and the clock went to zero, I threw my helmet and ran off. It felt good to beat LSU.”