Week 9: LSU’s upset over Ole Miss proves you never doubt Les Miles
The most notable takeaway from Saturday’s slate of college football games: Les Miles has still got it.
The extraordinarily young Tigers have not looked like themselves for much of this season, getting dominated by Auburn and shredded by Mississippi State. They took a 2-2 SEC record into Saturday night’s showdown with No. 3 Ole Miss. So No. 24 LSU’s dramatic 10-7 upset of the Rebels certainly sent its season in a different trajectory, but more than that, it was the kind of game only a Les Miles team would win.
LSU did not score its first (and only) touchdown until 5:07 remained in the game. The Tigers turned the ball over four times. Their quarterback, Anthony Jennings, completed a grand total of eight passes. But over the past few weeks, the Tigers have ramped up their rushing attack, which they rode relentlessly Saturday night. Conversely, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace picked a bad night to revert to “bad Bo” form, which ultimately burnt the Rebels most when Hugh Freeze took a positively Les-esque gamble in the final seconds.
Wallace, who finished a miserable 14-of-33 for 176 yards, had not thrown an interception since late-September, but he certainly came close on several occasions Saturday night. In fact, Ole Miss’ frantic last-minute drive first looked like it would end on a Wallace pick on a first down from the LSU 48, but a pass interference penalty bailed him out. He subsequently ran eight yards to the 25.
But when a delay of game call pushed Gary Wunderlich’s game-tying field-goal attempt from 42 to 47 yards, Freeze decided after an LSU timeout to trot Wallace back out for one more play. Eerily reminiscent of a famous Miles gamble against Auburn in 2007, Wallace threw to the end zone with just a few seconds left but threw it into double coverage, where Roland Martin intercepted it to hand Ole Miss its first defeat of the year.
Ole Miss came in boasting the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense and No. 5 rushing defense. Undeterred, LSU, which ran the ball 51 times in its 41-3 win over Kentucky the week before, just kept handing the ball to Leonard Fournette (23 carries for 113 yards), Terrence Magee (12 for 74) and Kenny Hilliard (12 for 63). It ran 55 times for 264 yards on the night and finally wore down the Rebels on a 13-play, 95-yard fourth-quarter drive in which the only pass was Jennings’ three-yard play action toss to a wide open Logan Stokes for the go-ahead touchdown.
It was just the first touchdown Ole Miss had allowed in nearly eight full quarters and only its eighth in eight games. But even the most dominant defense needs some help from its offense. Wallace was able to deliver it in wins over Alabama, Texas A&M and Tennessee and looked sharp on a first-quarter 80-yard touchdown drive. But he spent most of the rest of the night sailing passes and looking uncomfortable in the pocket, especially after star tackle Laremy Tunsil left in the third quarter with a reported biceps injury.
The good news for Ole Miss is that it still likely controls its playoff destiny. Beat Auburn next week and Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, avoid an upset against Arkansas and the Rebels, who already hold a tiebreaker over one-loss Alabama, will reach the SEC championship game. But Wallace’s miserable performance Saturday night makes you wonder whether they’re capable of running the table.
LSU, 7-2, plays its annual big game against Alabama in a couple of weeks. The Tigers aren’t likely climbing into playoff contention, but they may post a much better record than seemed possible a few weeks ago. Never second-guess Les.
MORE FROM WEEK 9
BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE: Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU. The dynamic dual-threat quarterback already was having a pretty strong season in the new Horned Frogs offense, but after throwing seven TDs and leading TCU to an 82-27 demolition of Texas Tech, he’s vaulted into the Heisman race. Boykin amassed a career-high 461 yards of offense and the 6-1 Horned Frogs have now scored 353 points this season, surpassing their total of 301 from last season.
COACH OF THE DAY: Les Miles, LSU. Coping with the passing of his mother, his team overcame four turnovers to knock off No. 3 Ole Miss 10-7.
STOCK UP: Joey Bosa, Ohio State D-line. The Buckeye pass-rushing beast came into the Penn State game leading the Big Ten in TFLs, but he took his rep up about two levels by notching 2.5 sacks against the Nittany Lions, including the game-sealer in double OT.
STOCK DOWN: UCLA. Since blowing out ASU on the road last month, the Bruins have lost two games and almost got upset twice now, including needing two OTs to survive a Colorado team that is now 1-13 in Pac-12 play under Mike MacIntyre.
BEST WIN: Illinois over Minnesota. Knocking off the 6-1 Gophers, Tim Beckman’s first Big Ten home win in his three seasons with the Illini doesn’t necessarily save his job, but it was a good first step. The Illini are 4-4 with road trips to Ohio State and Northwestern along with more winnable home games against Iowa and Penn State. Split those four, and he probably keeps his job.
WORST LOSS: Texas Tech to TCU. The Red Raiders fell by 55 and are now 1-4 in Big 12 play after surrendering four different pass plays of 50 yards or longer and giving up 305 rushing yards.
ONE THING NOBODY’S TALKING ABOUT: Sean Mannion, the towering Oregon State QB who many this summer were touting as a first-round pick, went 14-of-30 for just 122 yards and no TDs in a blowout loss at Stanford. A quarterback who threw 37 TDs last season with the help of star wideout Brandin Cooks (now in the NFL) has now gone five games and thrown just three TDs. In 2013, Mannion was second in the nation in passing, averaging 359 yards per game. And now he hasn’t had a 300-yard game since Week 2.
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FOX Sports 1. He is also a New York Times Bestselling author. His new book, The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks, came out in October, 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the College Football Playoff,” is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.