Defense stifles Ole Miss

Former LSU quarterback commitment Robert Lane didn't take a snap under center for Ole Miss Saturday night.

He was lucky.

The No. 4 Tiger's defense battered, bruised and bludgeoned Rebel quarterback Ethan Flatt until he threw in the towel at the half, without leading the Rebels to the LSU side of the field, much less to a score. His replacement, senior Michael Spurlock, didn't fare much better. The Rebels only managed a painful 89 yards of total offense before marching 86 yards in 13 plays late in the fourth quarter for a score, sparing themselves from a shutout. By that time, LSU's starters had long since retired for the evening, along with a sea of red and blue-clad fans who began their shuffle toward the exits before halftime. The 40-7 punishing was good for LSU's seventh consecutive road victory dating back to last season. The last time a Tiger team was unbeaten on the road, they won the national championship in 2003. The Tigers improved to 9-1 overall and 6-1 in conference play.

"I think our defense has been intimidating," said LSU head coach Les Miles. "You had better block and you had better be able to protect your passer."

Ole Miss didn't and couldn't.

LSU's front four didn't just frequent the Ole Miss backfield, they set up permanent residence there for the evening, having mail delivered, voting in elections and getting to know the neighbors. Credit the defense with seven tackles for loss, a sack, two interceptions, four forced fumbles and throw in a safety for good measure, and you have as complete a defensive performance as this team has shown all year.

"We have some guys out there on defense that our opponents should be afraid of," said senior linebacker Cameron Vaughn, "and it is an honor to be out there with them."

Perhaps the best offense truly is a great defense. When LSU faced a fourth and goal from the 1-yard line with more than 9 minutes to play in the first half, Miles decided to go for it, much like he did on the opening drive of the second half last week against Alabama. "The way our defense was playing, we didn't feel like we were gonna come away without points, whether they stopped us momentarily or not," said Miles.

It worked, as many of Miles' gambles have lately. Joe Addai danced into the end zone for a 16-0 lead, and many of the 59, 543 Rebel in attendance fans began dancing back to The Grove for a hotty toddy.

At halftime, Ole Miss had run 27 plays and netted a paltry 36 yards of offense. They didn't even sniff LSU's side of the giant "M" at midfield. "I think our defensive front was prepared for this offensive line, and I just don't think they could block them," Miles said. Minus-13 yards rushing on 12 attempts at the intermission would tend to support Miles' claim.

It was more than just the usual suspects contributing for the Tigers against Ole Miss. Maybe they felt they had to step up the intensity level to match Ole Miss Head coach Ed Orgeron, who happened to be the only non-player in the entire arena not wearing long sleeves on a night when wind chill temperatures dipped into the 30s. Maybe he can blame the 3-7 start to his rookie campaign with the Rebels on hypothermia. Whatever their motivation, a host of Tigers got involved, and they were swarming.

Linebacker Kenneth Hollis led the way for the Tigers with five tackles, one for loss. Ronnie Prude and LaRon Landry made four stops each from their posts in the secondary, with five other LSU defenders netting three tackles. Even seldom heard from DB Jonathon Zenon got into the action in the third quarter when he intercepted a Michael Spurlock pass and juked and jived for 32 yards down to the Ole Miss 15-yard line. Newly reemerged running back Justin Vincent capped off that drive with a 1-yard plunge to put the Tigers ahead 33-0. And it wasn't that close.

"They played some real good ball tonight," Vincent said of the defense. "It reminded me of the defense of '03." That's high praise, considering Nick Saban's defense in 2003 was top 5 in every major statistical category.

With a win over Arkansas in Tiger Stadium the day after Thanksgiving, LSU will meet Georgia in Atlanta for the SEC title game. I know that song sounds familiar, but there is no need to check the dateline on the story, it is 2005. With No. 3 Miami losing to Georgia Tech, wins over Arkansas and Georgia and an unlikely upset of either Texas or Southern Cal would likely put LSU back in the national championship game.

While that scenario seems unlikely, let me remind you that Oklahoma team LSU beat for the 2003 crown was anointed by many as "The Greatest College Football Team of All Time," until they got walloped 35-7 by Kansas State in the Big XII title game.

Far-fetched, maybe, but a stifling defense, Justin Vincent running with confidence, a mistake-free quarterback and a little BCS luck was a winning recipe for the Tigers in 2003.

Throw those ingredients into the pot in 2005, spin the BCS wheel and hope.

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