by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Inside the sun-kissed stratosphere of Death Valley, Brian Kelly's LSU Tigers survived yet another ugly start to win big....this time in swaggering, emphatic, dominating, come from behind fashion against #7 Ole Miss.
Holding college football's premier offensive playcaller and one of the league's best rushing units to just 77 yards and 0 points during the second half, as QB Jayden Daniels led LSU on a 42-3 run with 5 total TDs (2 passing, 3 rushing), headlined by his season-high 121 yards on the ground, once again, Saturday afternoon became a grand stage for Brian Kelly's LSU to announce themselves: not only as competitors, but contenders for the SEC West crown.
After suffering from defensive lapses, special teams penalties, Jayden Daniels missing throws, wasting two excruciatingly close opportunities to score inside the red zone (Daniels missing Boutte and Nabers unable to get a toe down in bounds), combined with their own inability to move the chains, LSU found themselves down 17-3 early, with freshman superstar Quinshond Judkins scoring twice.
The first quarter and a half quickly became a carbon copy script of the Tennessee, Auburn, Florida State, Mississippi State and Florida games: special teams errors, poor offensive execution, an inability to stop the run setting up deep shots in the passing game...all resulting in 2022 LSU handing a top tier opponent an early double digit lead.....
Instead, Kelly's elite coaching staff flipped the script, made the necessary adjustments & LSU's on-field leaders came together to drag this ultimate SEC West battle out from under Kiffin's #7 ranked Rebels:
Thanks to fantastic performances from freshman LB Harold Perkins, running back Josh Williams, Brad Davis' entire offensive line, DT Mekhi Wingo, backed by veteran leadership from Micah Baskerville, BJ Ojulari, Jay Ward, Jaquelin Roy and big plays from Jaray Jenkins, Mason Taylor and Joe Foucha, the Tigers buried Ole Miss in a furious 42-3 turnaround over the final 2 1/2 quarters.
Going into the game, the major discussion surrounded whether LSU's defensive front could stop Lane Kiffin's steamrolling rushing attack.
Without All-American level DT Maason Smith, featuring a few question marks at linebacker, utilizing an injured Jaquelin Roy playing through pain, while allowing Southern, Florida and Tennessee to rush for over 200 yards, the task appeared too tall for Matt House's unit.
Instead, we witnessed the Tigers hold Ole Miss to a paltry 116 rushing yards, most accrued during the first two quarters of play, pounding the Rebels' running backs into submission.
Starting their comeback, LSU began dictating the trenches, controlling and even toying with Ole Miss.
Jamar Cain's hellfire front pressured first year Ole Miss starting quarterback Jaxson Dart into a litany of errant throws including 2 interceptions (1 called back due to penalty), bullying Dart 26 times & punishing the first year starter with 3 sacks.
Throughout proceedings, Dart endured major hits from most of LSU's defense, specifically Jay Ward, Mekhi Wingo, Harold Perkins and Micah Baskerville.
Freshman Perkins was without a doubt a major part of LSU's defensive display, attacking the backfield like a young man possessed, with Wingo, Ojulari, leading tackler Baskerville, safety Joe Foucha and sophomore Sage Ryan cast in key roles.
Once LSU's front began battering and savaging Ole Miss in a true test of strength, the jig was up: Lane Kiffin's teams have always been more finesse than physical. Accordingly, Brian Kelly's staff exploited that weakness to the fullest.
For 3 quarters, LSU attacked Ole Miss with consistent pressure from a variety of spots, blasting Jaxson Dart, roughing up his offensive line, smothering Kiffin's running game, deleting any big passing plays as the day wore on, and in the end, offering stone cold proof that Brian Kelly's squad can physically match any team on their day.
But a large...very large...part of that overwhelming physicality equation turned out to be Brad Davis' offensive line:
Wearing down Ole Miss's defense behind 76 yards & one touchdown from Josh Williams, Armoni Goodwin's strong 55 from 8 touches, and of course...Jayden Daniels' unbelievable 121 yards (just 5 away from his career high) with 3 scores, Campbell and Co had their way inside Death Valley.
LSU beat Ole Miss with a strong taste of their own medicine, eating up 36 minutes of possession, finishing a perfect 6/6 scoring inside the red zone, ripping off 4 touchdowns on drives of more than 70+ yards, as Denbrock's offensive play-calling alternated between a grinding, punishing pulse or a quick-fire gash....still, this victory also arrived thanks to timely, critical plays:
Cutting the score from 17-3 to 17-10 when Jayden Daniels tossed a duck downfield, Jaray Jenkins tracked the under-thrown ball through two defenders and, for the fourth time this season, hauled in one more game-altering touchdown.
Later on, between mazy touchdown rushes by Daniels, freshman tight end Mason Taylor caught a 38 yard pass in stride down the sidelines, making tacklers miss before being taken down inside the red zone. Right after Taylor's 38 yard catch & scamper, CBS commentator Gary Danielson immediately quipped, "that's a future pro tight end right there..."
Mason followed his biggest gain as a Tiger by catching his first touchdown in purple and gold, what would prove to be a game-winning score:
Slipping away in space around the goal-line, Daniels fed Taylor to give LSU their first lead in the game...and one they would build on continuously over the next quarter and a half as a stunned numb Lane Kiffin "stood waste deep in Joey Shitwater".
Receivers Kayshon Boutte, Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr didn't register eye-popping stats, however their catches and mere presence held Chris Partridge's secondary hostage all afternoon, their tireless route-running opening up mountains of space for QB Jayden Daniels to run into. Thomas Jr also forced a couple pass interference calls during LSU scoring drives, further compounding the Rebels' defensive nightmare at Tigers Stadium.
Despite this win focusing more on LSU's newfound ability to own the trenches again, running it down Ole Miss' throat with glee while endlessly attacking an opponent's backfield, Daniels still found his receivers or freshman tight end for first down yardage or breakout gains, consistently setting up Mike Denbrock's offense in scoring position.
The timely plays arrived on both sides of the ball for LSU today....consistently ushering the Tigers forward as they exposed each and every weakness within Ole Miss:
One of the biggest defensive plays of the game arrived at a crucial point during the 3rd quarter, as Ole Miss drove deep to the LSU 10 yard line with the score 24-20 LSU.
Forcing the only turnover of the game, safety Joe Foucha hunted down an errant pass by Jaxson Dart and intercepted the ball with a one handed catch inside his own end zone. Foucha's first interception as a Tiger would be one Randy Moss would be proud of, creating one of the most brilliant moments from a majestic day in Baton Rouge.
Saturday also stands as another milestone in LSU's early Kelly era, showcasing his ability as a head coach to prepare a football team, hire the right staff, maximize talent and....as this coaching staff learned vs Florida as well as today: don't overthink it.
In front of more than 30 elite recruits or commits, joined by a host of LSU legends or luminaries, Brian Kelly's consecutive wins over deep SEC rivals and his team's gutsy, never say die mentality continues to earn maximum buy-in and an overall excitement for his program vision.
Fully understanding LSU's 2022 roster limitations, many of these recruits & their families can't say enough about the job Brian Kelly and his staff are pulling off, but that was before Kelly's Tigers recorded defining victories over Florida in the Swamp, Miss State, at Auburn and now against #7 ranked Ole Miss....that was before they witnessed Tigers Stadium hopping, including fans storming the field after triple zeroes.
That was before these recruits watched freshmen Harold Perkins, Will Campbell, Emery Jones Jr, Mason Taylor all showing out, next to an incendiary sophomore group poised to lead....
With these key ingredients, led by a staff that continues to elevate each game, LSU's future is looking extremely bright...a future many recruits are excited to be part of.
However....why talk about the future when LSU are now 6-2, owning the SEC West's 2nd spot & only trailing 7-1 Alabama in the standings.....the exact opponent they'll be facing at home, just two weeks away.....with a trip to Atlanta's SEC Championship Game now on the line.
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By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MARTY BECH!