Countdown to kickoff: LSU takes its time with upset victory against No. 3 Ole Miss
Beads of sweat roll down your face as you fire up your computer.
As you impatiently wait for the desktop applications to shatter the black void of your rectangular screen, you gaze out of your window and watch the sun fade into the western sky on a Sunday evening.
Anxiety and self-doubt bounce around your psyche like a pinball, but you do your best to bury these thoughts.
“There’s still time,” you tell yourself, but you know the truth.
You had an entire week to work on the homework assignment you’re about to begin, but you instead waited until the last few hours before the due date.
Procrastination is a part of the human experience that we’ve all fallen victim to at some point in our lives. We’ve all been given several chances to complete a task or start a project, and we’ve all put those responsibilities off until it was almost too late.
For the 2014 LSU football team, there was no better example of procrastination than when No. 3 Ole Miss rolled into town.
The Rebels were in a rare situation on that October evening in Baton Rouge. Yes, they were ranked top five in the Associated Press poll, but, more importantly, Ole Miss was undefeated late in the season.
Conversely, LSU was ranked No. 24 after struggling early in the season. After suffering tough losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, the Tigers earned a much needed win against Florida that shifted the course of their season.
Entering the game, coach Les Miles and company knew Ole Miss loomed as the season’s toughest test to that point, but the respect for their opponent did not erode LSU’s ability to nearly procrastinate away a victory.
The first quarter began as most first quarters in this era of LSU football did. The Rebels started with the ball, but were forced to punt thanks to a stifling Tiger defense.
LSU received the ball at its own 25 and put together an impressive drive that spanned 11 plays and 63 yards that actually featured a decent mix between run and pass plays.
However, the drive stalled out inside the red zone (shocking), and Tiger kicker Trent Domingue shanked his 28-yard field goal attempt.
With the ball back in the Rebels’ hands, they ripped off an eight-play 50-yard drive thanks in large part to a 30-yard end around on the first play from scrimmage. Despite their momentum, the rebels turned the ball over on downs after failing to convert a fourth down attempt, and LSU took over with a chance to put the game’s first points on the board.
Fans of the purple and gold had reason to be optimistic at the start of this drive. Tiger quarterback Anthony Jennings found running back Leonard Fournette open at midfield and completed the pass for a 40-yard gain.
LSU followed this big gain by calling Fournette’s number again, this time with a toss dive. The freshman running back flew past the Rebel front seven and brought the ball inside the five-yard line.
It was clear that Fournette had the hot hand at this point, but sports are dynamic and football games change on a dime.
Jennings handed the ball to Fournette once again, but this time the ball popped out and landed in the hands of the Ole Miss defense. In an instant, LSU’s drive to the goal line was all for naught.
The Rebels seemingly wasted no time capitalizing on the Tigers’ faux pas. On the second play of the drive, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace hit wide receiver Jaylen Walton in stride down the sideline, and Walton proceeded to take it 81-yards to the end zone.
In a capacity Tiger Stadium crowd, the cardinal red sea of the Ole Miss crowd was the only section in Baton Rouge making noise.
However, the pendulum quickly swung in favor of LSU. After an official review, it was determined that Walton stepped out of bounds at the Tiger 37-yard line, and Tiger fans breathed a sigh of relief.
Sadly, this moment of reprieve didn’t last long as Ole Miss capped off their drive with a touchdown, and this time the score counted. With the roller coaster ride of the first quarter behind them, the Tigers were faced with a 7-0 deficit heading into quarter two.
The Tigers would start the second quarter in a similar fashion by focusing on the run game but would once again fall victim to a turnover. This time it was running back Terrance Magee that scuttled the drive with a fumble.
Fortunately, both Magee and Fournette would make up for their costly fumbles on the next drive as the two running backs traded big gains with one another.
On third and goal, LSU opted to throw a jump ball to wide receiver Malachi Dupre who couldn’t stay in bounds with the reception. The Tigers settled for a field goal and went into the locker room at halftime trailing 7-3.
If you’re a fan of the slow, methodical pace of play and the sound defensive football that served as the hallmark of the early 2010’s, the second half of this game is for you.
Do not feel ashamed if you fall into this category. I am one of you. This style of football doesn’t make for an interesting read though, so forgive me if I skip over the seven consecutive punts that occurred in the second half.
Technically speaking, LSU and Ole Miss did not trade seven punts in a row. The punt-fest was broken up twice by two interceptions from LSU’s Jennings. With 11 minutes left in the game, the Tigers dug in for their most important drive.
LSU decided to limit its pass attempts on this drive after the last two turnovers, and to the dismay of Ole Miss, the Tigers introduced fresh legs with Kenny Hilliard, their third running back in the stable.
Hilliard led LSU on an impressive stretch that led inside the Ole Miss five-yard line, and that’s when Tiger coach Les Miles reached into his bag of tricks.
I acknowledge that I’ve been tacitly critical of Miles throughout this countdown to kickoff series. I have made quite a few tongue-in-cheek comments about his play call, especially his propensity to abuse the toss dive.
In the spirit of giving credit where it’s due, I have to say that the play on second and goal was masterfully called. After 12-straight running plays, the Tiger offense went with a play action rollout and Jennings found senior tight end Logan Stokes who was all alone in the end zone.
With that score, LSU took a 10-7 lead with just over five minutes to play. The Tigers procrastinated all evening but finally put a go-ahead drive together.
Each team would trade a position, but with nine seconds left to play, Wallace was picked off by Tiger defensive back Ronald Martin to seal the game and cement the upset.
As any good procrastinator knows, when you finally complete the task at hand before the due date bell sounds, you are often overcome with a sense of euphoric exhaustion. Likewise, the 100,000 fans in Tiger Stadium felt that same type of exhaustion and poured onto the field in a mad dash of celebration.
Procrastination leads to some extremely unpleasant feelings in the hours before an assignment is due, but on the night of October 25, 2014, I think every Tiger fan could attest that the end result was a truly excellent feeling.