LSU takes first step toward title|[11/18/07]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 18, 2007

OXFORD — The LSU Tigers fell into the trap once before this season and they weren’t about to let it happen again.

Needing three wins to secure a spot in the BCS Championship game, the Tigers took care of the first part of their quest with a 41-24 victory over Ole Miss in front of 61,118 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

The top-ranked Tigers (10-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) now must beat Arkansas on Friday, then win the SEC championship game on Dec. 7 to stamp their ticket to the national title game.

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“I simply look for victory every week,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I don’t care about style points. Ole Miss is a good football team. They have a great offensive line and speed at quarterback.”

In this season of monumental upsets, the Tigers had already been plucked from the No. 1 perch after a 43-37 triple-overtime loss to Kentucky on Oct. 13. LSU worked its way back to the top spot with wins over Alabama, Auburn and Louisiana Tech, coupled with losses by teams ranked ahead of it.

Ole Miss (3-8, 0-7) attempted to be the latest to shock the world. The three-touchdown underdogs hung close through three quarters, but a missed opportunity right before halftime and settling for a field goal after a first-and-goal in the third quarter kept them from ever taking the lead.

Trailing 14-7, backup quarterback Brent Schaeffer guided Ole Miss to the LSU 4-yard line, but a delay of game penalty led Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron to bench Schaeffer in favor of starting QB Seth Adams. On his second pass attempt, Adams was intercepted by Craig Steltz in the end zone to end the threat.

“We were out of timeouts and had problems getting the play in,” Orgeron said. “It was a critical error and Seth should have thrown the ball away.”

Instead the Tigers went into the locker room holding a 14-7 lead and had possession of the ball to start the third quarter. They took the second-half kickoff and drove 68 yards in nine plays, capped by a 10-yard Keiland Williams touchdown run, to stretch the lead to two touchdowns.

Ole Miss and LSU traded field goals the rest of the way in the third quarter, and Colt David’s second field goal less than four minutes into the fourth quarter gave the Tigers a 27-10 lead. Schaeffer ran in a fourth-quarter touchdown and threw a long TD pass to Shay Hodge in the fourth, but the Tigers were able to match Ole Miss score-for-score.

“Ole Miss had a good plan for us and came out and played well,” said LSU quarterback Matt Flynn, who completed 17 of 25 passes for 168 yards and had one rushing touchdown.

Flynn directed two fourth-quarter scoring drives — ending in a 2-yard TD run by Jacob Hester and a 29-yard TD run by Charles Scott — to keep a comfortable margin.

Schaeffer, who was annointed the Rebels’ starting quarterback on national signing day in 2006, led all rushers with 94 yards on eight carries. He also threw for 208 yards, but was intercepted twice.

“You have to stay assignment-sound against a guy like that,” said LSU linebacker Ali Highsmith, who had eight tackles and an interception. “He gives you a lot to work against. If he doesn’t have anywhere to throw, he can pull it down and run. Everyone on defense has to be on the same page.”

Ole Miss running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 53 yards on 12 carries and surpassed the 1,000-yard plateau for the second straight year, joining Vicksburg resident Kayo Dottley as the only Rebel running backs to register multiple 1,000-yard seasons. Dottley surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in 1949 and ’50. Green-Ellis, who ran for exactly 1,000 yards last season, now has 1,020 this year.

The Rebels gained 466 yards — most of it in the second half — against a Tigers’ defense ranked near the top nationally. It was the most yards LSU has given up in one game all season.

The game stayed close throughout the first half. After LSU took a 7-0 lead, Ole Miss punt returner Marshay Green tied it with a 44-yard return. On the ensuing kickoff, pint-sized speedster Trindon Holliday went 98 yards almost untouched for a touchdown and a 14-7 LSU lead.

“Special teams can always be the outcome of a game,” LSU receiver Early Doucet said. “They brought that punt return back for a score, it shocked us a little. Jet (Holliday) taking it to the house was a big momentum boost for us.”