BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Bo Wallace isn’t about to dwell on his first game-losing throw of the season.
Even amid the din that persisted in LSU’s Death Valley long after the Tigers’ victory-sealing interception, Mississippi’s gun-slinging quarterback was calm, clear and succinct in declaring the Rebels’ resolve.
”We’re ready. We’re thinking everybody is going to have one loss now,” Wallace said of the Southeastern Conference Western Division race. ”We have Auburn coming to our place next week. That’s what our mind is on right now.”
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Wallace had not thrown an interception in an SEC game all season before LSU safety Ronald Martin stepped in front of his attempted touchdown throw at the 1-yard line with 2 seconds left, securing a 10-7 Tigers triumph on Saturday night.
The result dropped Ole Miss (7-1, 4-1 SEC) from No. 3 to No. 7 in the AP Top 25 poll. LSU (7-2, 3-2) climbed from No. 24 to No. 16 heading into next weekend’s open date.
The Rebels knew better than to be stunned by the inspired performance of an old rival. Ole Miss and LSU first played in 1884 and there have been plenty of upsets in the series since then. They’ve included one as recent as last season, which saw Mississippi all but ruin LSU’s shot at a 2013 SEC title.
Last week, the Tigers talked about payback, and the threat hardly seemed idle. LSU looked like a team turning its season around in its previous two games. First, the Tigers pulled out a tight victory at Florida, then delivered their most convincing performance this season with a 41-3 demolition of Kentucky in newly expanded Tiger Stadium.
By the time the Rebels entered Death Valley, LSU’s confidence was surging and seemed further buoyed by the Tiger Stadium record-tying crowd of 102,321.
Wallace called Tiger Stadium, ”The craziest place I’ve played,” saying the crowd’s deafening, chaos-inducing roars were ”absolutely” a factor as he tried to get his offense lined up for series after series of pressure-packed snaps.
It didn’t help that the Rebels were missing some key players as they tried to protect a tenuous lead.
Ole Miss entered the game without starting center Ben Still, then linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche left in the first half with an apparent ankle injury, followed by left tackle Laremy Tunsil with a pulled right bicep in the third quarter. Late in the game, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and safety Cody Prewitt were not on the field, either, though Mississippi did not specify what their injuries were.
”It’s difficult each Saturday to win football games, particularly when you may not play your best, and you suffer some injuries you’re not used to having and you’ve got to play some other kids,” Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze said. ”That hasn’t happened to us this year.”
Robert Nkemdiche finished the game with four assisted tackles, none behind the line of scrimmage. Ole Miss did not have a single sack, but didn’t have many chances because LSU’s Anthony Jennings attempted only 16 passes and scrambled effectively when he was pressured. The Tigers have a deep, powerful running game that only seems to be improving, and they wore the Rebels out by running 55 times for 264 yards.
Still, the Rebels produced two fumble recoveries and two more interceptions – giving them 17 picks this season – and LSU never led until 5:07 remained.
”Our defense gave us a chance to win the game. We just could not manage any points,” Freeze said, adding that substantial credit was due to LSU’s defense, which has allowed only two touchdown drives longer than 9 yards in its last three games.
Ole Miss will now close out its regular season with three more SEC games: at home against Auburn, at Arkansas and then back at home for the Egg Bowl against No. 1 Mississippi State, the only unbeaten team left in the SEC.
Rebels running back Jaylen Walton said it won’t be difficult for Ole Miss to bounce back for its high-stakes final stretch.
”Every week is a hard game,” Walton said. ”So we have to go back to the drawing board and have a better preparation.”