By Bert Martel/The Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. — As the jubilant student section in Tiger Stadium chanted his name, Jordan Jefferson hopped up on a box near the edge of the stands and stretched his arms above his head.
Having endured his fair share of criticism for LSU’s inconsistent passing game throughout the season, Jefferson was ready soak in the praise raining down on him after one of the best performances of his career.
“I have definitely been waiting on a night like this,” Jefferson said. “I’m just glad that (the passing game) finally came through when we needed it.”
Jefferson passed for a career-high 254 yards, threw for one touchdown and ran for another, and fifth-ranked LSU beat Ole Miss for the first time in three meetings 43-36 on Saturday.
LSU (10-1, 6-1 SEC) trailed 36-35 with 4:57 left when Patrick Peterson returned a kickoff 34 yards to midfield, setting up a game-winning drive that ended with Stevan Ridley’s third touchdown rushing.
Ole Miss (4-7, 1-6) still had 44 seconds to come back, which did not seem all that unlikely the way the fourth quarter was going. But LSU’s defense held firm and Peterson, who was likely playing his final game in Tiger Stadium, intercepted Jeremiah Masoli’s desperation pass as time ran out.
Shortly after public address announcer Dan Borne said, “Thanks for the memories, Patrick,” the star junior cornerback, widely considered a high first-round NFL draft prospect, went into the stands to celebrate.
“That was fun,” Peterson said. “This is possibly my last time in this stadium and I just wanted to show them how much they mean to me. I wanted to remember that moment and make the best of it. I needed an interception in Tiger Stadium for the last home game.”
If LSU wins its final game at Arkansas next Saturday, the Tigers likely will earn a bid to a BCS bowl, their first since they won the national title in the 2007 season.
LSU was heavily favored, but as usual, coach Houston Nutt found a way to make the Tigers nervous in a wild, seesaw game that featured 890 yards of offense.
“You like the way they played,” Nutt said of his players. “You like the way they competed and they left their heart out there. That’s the thing that I’ll go to sleep with tonight.”
Brandon Bolden rushed for 91 yards and two TDs for Ole Miss, which came in needing to win its final two games to be eligible for a bowl. Masoli finished 15 of 23 for 177 yards, one TD and two interceptions. Jeff Scott had 188 yards on kickoff returns for the Rebels, including three of at least 39 yards.
“The offense loved the atmosphere out here and we came ready to play,” said Ja-Mes Logan, who led the Rebels in receiving with four catches for 59 yards.
Jefferson was an efficient 13 of 17 with one interception, while Ridley’s 89 yards rushing and Deangelo Peterson’s 76 yards receiving on three catches led LSU.
The game offered only the latest example of Nutt’s knack for getting a team ready to play LSU. In 2007, his unranked Arkansas squad nearly ruined then-No. 1 LSU’s national title run with a 50-48 upset in triple overtime. In his first season at Ole Miss, the Rebels dominated the Tigers in Baton Rouge 31-13, then last season pulled out a 25-23 upset in Oxford after LSU memorably ran out of time on the Rebels 5-yard line.
Miles said he “did not see the significance of the Ole Miss rivalry” before Nutt was forced out at Arkansas and landed in Oxford.
“I felt that significance in the last two years and certainly today,” Miles said. “We will look forward to playing these guys every year. Houston Nutt is a good coach.”
LSU appeared in control for much of their latest encounter, but three times had to settle for field goals by Josh Jasper after getting inside the Ole Miss 20. That allowed the Rebels to stay close throughout and finally take a 24-23 lead on Bolden’s 3-yard run in the third quarter.
LSU went back in front on Jefferson’s sneak, capping a drive in which he converted third-and-16 with a 39-yard pass to Rueben Randle and hit Chase Clement for 21 yards on a slant.
But Masoli brought Ole Miss back again.
“He competed like a warrior,” Nutt said of Masoli, who threw three interceptions a week earlier in Ole Miss’ 52-14 loss at Tennessee. “He really competed, felt really bad about last week and that’s what I love about Jeremiah. … He wanted to make up for Tennessee week and he did.”
Shortly after Bolden’s 7-yard gain made the Rebels 4 for 4 on fourth-down conversions, Masoli broke loose for a 22-yard scoring run. The 2-point try failed, leaving Ole Miss’ lead at 30-29.
Ole Miss’ next kickoff went out of bounds, however, giving LSU the ball on its 40, and the Tigers quickly regained the lead when Michael Ford turned Jefferson’s slightly forward option pitch into a slashing 27-yard touchdown reception. Another failed 2-point try left the score 35-30, but not for long.
LSU’s defensive backfield lost track of Markeith Summers, who Masoli spotted for an easy 65-yard score. Ole Miss led 36-35 after yet another failed 2-point try, setting the stage for LSU’s decisive drive, which consisted of eight methodical, clock-eating rushes and, unlike last season’s meeting, no last-second panic.
Read more about the game in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal.
Click view slideshow link for photos from the game.