Zone-read play cuts both ways for Rebels

BATON ROUGE, La. – All game long, LSU’s usually rugged defense struggled to solve the puzzle that was Ole Miss’ zone read-option play.
The Rebels, led by elusive quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, used the play as its bread-and-butter to roll up 236 rushing yards, the second-biggest rushing total allowed by the Tigers this season behind LSU’s only loss, to Auburn.
So it was perhaps a bit ironic that it was the same play, run by LSU, that the Ole Miss defense failed to stop on LSU’s winning drive in Saturday’s 43-36 LSU win.
LSU went eight plays for 51 yards on the winning drive, all similar running plays. The last play, a 7-yard touchdown run by Natchez native Stevan Ridley, was typical of the drive. Ridley, who rushed for 89 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries, had a hole and broke tackles to make the most of the play.
On all the plays, LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson would take a snap in the shotgun formation and put the ball in the belly of the running back lined next to him, angling wide. Jefferson would either hand it off or pull the ball out of the running back’s belly and keep it up the middle.
Twice Jefferson kept for runs of 5 and 7 yards. Six times he gave it to the running back, the first three times to Michael Ford for 19 yards and the last three to Ridley, for 20 yards.
“They kept running the zone read,” Rebels defensive tackle Jerrell Powe said. “It’s a very difficult play. Jefferson did a great job of riding it out until the last second.”
Powe would know when the other team does a good job with that play.
With Masoli under center, the zone read has been a staple of the Rebels offense and Saturday was no exception. Ole Miss scored twice on versions of the play, a 50-yard first quarter run by Brandon Bolden and a 22-yard keeper by Masoli, who rushed for 64 yards and passed for 177, including a 65-yard touchdown pass to Markeith Summers that gave Ole Miss a 36-35 lead with 4:57 left.
Summers was penalized for excessive celebration on the touchdown for diving into the end zone and, with the aid of the 15-yard penalty, Patrick Peterson was able to return the ensuing kickoff to the LSU 49 to set up the winning drive.
That allowed LSU to run the football and milk the clock, as opposed to putting the ball in the air in an attempt to quickly get in field goal range.
And the Rebels defense tipped their caps to how well LSU executed its running game.
“You have to give LSU credit,” linebacker D.T. Shackelford said. “They ran it well and they kept playing hard.”
Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said his defense was not tired.
“They made up their mind that they had good enough field position that if they ran the football, they could put the game on the field goal kicker and kick it in,” Nix said. “They didn’t have to. They ended up punching it in.”
With a play Ole Miss knows well – too well after Saturday.

GARY LANEY / Special to the Journal