LSU's national championship hopes all but officially evaporated and their dreams of an SEC title took a big hit when the Tigers were upset at Ole Miss, 27-24, last week.
The defeat dropped LSU (6-2 and 3-2 in the SEC) from No. 6 to No. 13 in the Associated Press poll and it was 13th in the initial BCS standings. A victory against the injury-riddled Rebels would have left just a nonconference game against Furman this week and an open date next week before another huge showdown against Alabama on Nov. 9.
That game still has a lot of implications, but less for LSU than it would have had if the Tigers could have headed to Tuscaloosa at 8-1 and ranked in the top five.
"I think our guys are ambitious," LSU coach Les Miles said. "They're in a lesser position than they could be, and they recognize it. I can't imagine that they won't want to play hard. This football team has the ability to win and play against any team remaining on our schedule, and we need to recognize that."
The Tigers didn't look like a team with so much to play for when they began the game at Ole Miss. They fell behind 10-0 at halftime, marking their first scoreless first half since the 21-0 loss to Alabama in the BCS Championship Game after the 2011 season.
Their biggest deficit of the season grew to 17-0 in the third quarter before they fought back and tied the score at 24-24 midway through the fourth quarter.
"There's a number of reasons why we don't win that game, but in my opinion it's me," Miles said. "I did not make the point, 'man, you're just going to go here, play hard-nosed, tough, LSU football, play within the scheme and win one play at a time.' I did not get it across to them. I made the points, I spoke the words, but I need to teach better. I challenge myself that way. I've got to do a better job. I've got to get their attention."
Miles also took the blame for clock mismanagement that cost the Tigers 20 seconds before Andrew Ritter kicked the game-winning 41-yard field goal with two seconds remaining.
After LSU stopped Ole Miss on third down it could have called its last timeout with about 26 seconds left, but Miles hesitated and the clock reached six seconds before he called timeout.
Miles said the plan was to let the clock run down, then call time to "ice" Ritter and set up a block. Then he recalled LSU had blocked a 29-yard attempt by Ritter on Ole Miss' last possession and decided to use the time-out to preserve more time for after the kick.
"I wished I had every one of those seconds back," Miles said. "We should well have, in retrospect, gone after those 20 seconds that we could have got at the end of the game. We would have had time to set up the block anyway."
Miles also lamented the fact that the Tigers allowed the Rebels to convert 11-of-18 third downs, including a third-and-6 and a third-and-9 on the last drive.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--RB Jeremy Hill fumbled on the first play from scrimmage and even though he recovered the ball, the carelessness led coach Les Miles to bench him for a few series. Hill wound up with 16 carries, but had one of his least productive games of the season with 64 yards. Look for him to be more productive against Furman.
--QB Zach Mettenberger will also be seeking redemption this week. He threw had the first three-interception game of his career, which was just the second multiple-interception of his career. Mettenberger should be able to return to being what he was during the first half of the season -- one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country.
--LB Lamar Louis has seen more playing time the last two games and should continue that trend this week. Louis had six tackles against Ole Miss and has cut into starter D.J. Welter's playing time.
--S Corey Thompson had helped stabilize the secondary in consecutive weeks against Mississippi State and Florida before unexpectedly playing just one series against Ole Miss. Coach Les Miles said that was a mistake and Thompson will play more this week.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a good feeling to have a coach behind you and him take the blame for a game like that even though it's not his fault." -- LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr. on coach Les Miles taking the blame for the loss at Ole Miss.