How else can it be explained? Against a team that had yet to win a conference game, the Tigers gave up more yards than in any of their previous games: 466 yards to be exact, and 186 of those yards came in the fourth quarter alone.
Playing in relief of maligned starter Seth Adams, Schaeffer rushed eight times for 94 yards, including a 38-yard dash for a touchdown that pulled the Rebels within 10 points of the Tigers with 9:11 remaining in the fourth quarter. Schaeffer also completed 13 of 28 passes for 208 yards, including a 33-yard pass to Shay Hodge in the end zone with 2:54 to go in regulation to again pull Ole Miss within 10 points.
"I certainly don't remember him dong that last year," LSU coach Les Miles said of Schaeffer afterwards. "He's more mobile than I thought. He really put the ball in there and wasn't afraid to take it in. He also made some plays with his arm. He is something we are going to have to work on. I can promise you this: We weren't looking for him. That's partially my fault. He wasn't in our game plan."
Also not part of LSU's game plan was Darry Beckwith. With him out, the linebacking corps of Luke Sanders, Ali Highsmith, and Jacob Cutrera was counting on being tested. For the most part, it passed with flying colors.
"Beckwith, he's a good leader, and he controls the game," Highsmith said. "We knew he was down, and everybody prepares if they are going to play linebacker. So with him down, everybody knew they had to step it up a level and go out there and play ball, like better than we've played before."
Highsmith accounted for seven total tackles and broke up a pass. Sanders contributed two tackles. Cutrera added four tackles and also forced a fumble near the goal line that was recovered by Sanders.
"Jacob (Cutrera) does a great job of stepping in there, and I think he's a real good linebacker," Sanders said. "He made a great play on the goal line on that play, causing a fumble. He's one of those guys who's going to prepare as hard for every game."
The forced fumble took place on Ole Miss' second possession of the game. Down 7-0, the Rebels had the ball on first-and-goal from the Tigers 2-yard line. BenJarvis Green-Ellis appeared headed for a tying touchdown when Cutrera was able to knock the ball free.
"Everybody knows that you can bend, but you can't break," Highsmith said. "It's just about going out there and being assignment-sound."
That "bend but don't break" attitude is one that LSU certainly seemed to be employing throughout the majority of the first half. The defense didn't allow a point to be scored and came up big just prior to halftime when Ole Miss went on a 12-play, 56-yard drive that consumed 7:40 but resulted in a Craig Steltz interception.
On the play prior to Steltz's pick, Highsmith had a chance to bring the drive to an end with an interception of his own. After being deflected, an
"My eyes was too big," Highsmith said. "I was seeing it too much. That's why I dropped it."
Instead, the ball fell harmlessly to the ground. Highsmith went down too, however, the victim of a late hit to the back of his knees that resulted in a 15-yard penalty.
Because of some Rebel miscues, mostly due to the fact that Schaeffer was "rattled" according to Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron, the Tigers benefited in the first half. In the second half, however, Schaeffer looked like a seasoned veteran at times, accounting for two touchdowns. He also led a nine-play, 68-yard drive that netted a field goal.
"It's always tough when you have to play against an elusive quarterback like that," Sanders said. "Any time he gets out of the pocket, he has the ability to scramble away and make big yardage. They spread us out a little bit more than we expected; came out in five wides. When they've got a good quarterback like that and we're having to cover all those receivers, he's got the opportunity to get out of the pocket and make big plays."
Giving up 466 yards to a team is not the standard at LSU, according to Sanders. He attributed some of the Tigers' difficulties to the linebacking corps.
"As a linebacking group, it's all about communicating out there on the field, and I think we did a good job of that," Sanders said. "But every once in awhile, we're going to make a couple of mistakes, and I think I made a couple of mistakes out there. That's just one of those things. You've got to be focused on every play; and if not, they're going to get some yards. That's what happens, especially in the SEC. Big-time conference like this, everybody on their team's on scholarship, too. They're going to make plays. If you're not focused on every play and slip up every once in awhile, it's going to show up out there on the field."
This Friday, the linebacking corps and the Tigers will take on a running back in Darren McFadden that many consider a Heisman candidate, despite the fact that his team is currently 7-4 overall. His backfield partner, Felix Jones, would likely be a starter at most other schools.
"We know we've got two hell-of-a running backs coming in Friday, and we've got to play them like we play everybody else," Highsmith said.
Highsmith was obviously speaking about his team's attitude when they play the Razorbacks, not the way his team performed against Ole Miss. Otherwise, it may be a long afternoon.