LSU holding out hope
LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham (3) returns a punt 89 yards for a touchdown in the second half of their NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. LSU won 41-35. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
BATON ROUGE, La. Les Miles understands rivalries as well as anyone, having played for Michigan against Ohio State back in the 1970s.
He has been around college football ever since — long enough to be comfortable with the idea that it's OK to celebrate a close comeback victory against a more than two-touchdown underdog when the matchup consists of conference foes meeting for the 101st time.
As far as Miles is concerned, the reason No. 8 LSU still has hope, however slim, of winning the Southeastern Conference — and perhaps even a national title — is because the Tigers demonstrated unshakable resolve in a "wild and woolly" 41-35 win against an inspired Mississippi squad that desperately needs one more victory to solidify its own postseason hopes.
"Man, that is special," an exuberant Miles said after LSU twice erased fourth-quarter deficits in the so-called Magnolia Bowl on Saturday. "There isn't a question about it."
LSU (9-2, 5-2) will end its season Friday at Arkansas (4-7, 2-5), a team that has not won much but can still move the ball. The Razorbacks have routinely given the Tigers fits over the years, particularly in games played in Arkansas.
If the Tigers win, they will at least have a shot at winding up in a BCS bowl game.
If next weekend also brings an Auburn upset over Alabama and a Texas A&M win over Missouri, then LSU will wind up in a three-way tie atop the SEC West and hold the tiebreakers to go to the conference title game against Georgia in Atlanta. That scenario also could open the possibility of LSU playing its way back into the BCS title game for a second straight season.
It sounds far-fetched, though perhaps no more so than the unanticipated combination of results in the last week of the 2007 season that helped a two-loss LSU squad get to — and win — the BCS title game against Ohio State.
Before the Tigers start dreaming about such scenarios, though, they'll have to address breakdowns against Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5) that nearly took them out of the SEC and BCS conversations entirely.
Rebels sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace had his way with LSU's normally stout defense most of the game. The Tigers entered the contest ranked first in the SEC in yards passing allowed at 165.7. Wallace threw for 310 yards, including touchdowns of 56 and 30 yards.
"We're going to spend six days in between now and the next game in pass coverage," Miles said. "This is the kind of film that will be truly beneficial to our secondary."
Ole Miss also gained 147 yards on the ground. Bo Wallace scored on a career-long 58-yard run and would have finished with nearly 80 yards rushing if not for three sacks that reduced his net to 54.
"Ole Miss came out, they were feeling a rivalry and the tradition," LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery said. "They probably came out and probably played the best game of their life."
For a third straight week, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger moved the ball effectively through the air, completing 22 of 37 passes for 282 yards, although his performance was marred somewhat by two interceptions, the first time he'd been picked off since the Tigers beat South Carolina on Oct. 13.
"He's functioning our offense. He's doing the things we ask him to do. We expect him to play big in games like this," Miles said. "We threw the football pretty well and stayed with it."
Mettenberger also found a new target in sophomore tight end Travis Dickson, who made his first five catches of the season for a team-high 69 yards.
"It was actually the plan to involve me all week in practice prior to this game. Some of the deeper routes we saw on film that I had we could take advantage of against those guys," Dickson said. "The other ones were just opportunities that opened up during the game."
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