Missed a day in the countdown yesterday, but we’re back on track.
I am often asked about atmospheres and big games that I’ve covered. There a fews that stand out. During my time on the Ole Miss beat, no game stands out more than the 2003 LSU game.
There are some games that you can look back on and see were big wins … Florida in 2002, Florida in 2008, LSU in 2009, among them.
But big games have stakes you know about in advance. In 2003, the Ole Miss-LSU winner would in all likelihood win the West. LSU still had to get past Arkansas in a home game, Ole Miss still had a rival game against MSU, but MSU at the time was struggling as Ole Miss is now.
Ole Miss was ranked No. 15 that day, LSU No. 3.
CBS was in Oxford for the game, and John Vaught was on the video board in a memorable pre-game piece.
The stadium was packed, as was the Grove, and it was one of those days and atmospheres that will go down in memory. The only thing missing was an Ole Miss win.
Too much speed on defense for LSU then. I remember telling a friend that because of that speed I felt like the Ole Miss defense would be the factor that would give the Rebels the best chance. Ole Miss played pretty well on defense that day, even taking a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard interception return by Travis Johnson.
Two more times the Rebels intercepted LSU’s Matt Mauck and had the ball in LSU territory, but the Tigers – with the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense – kept Ole Miss off the scoreboard.
The Ole Miss offense did not produce a touchdown until Eli Manning’s 10-yard pass to Brandon Jacobs with 10:31 left in the game.
Kicker Jonathan Nichols later missed a field goal that would have tied the game at 17 late, but LSU held the Rebels in check all day.
Eli was just 16-for-36 passing for 200 yards, and the Rebels rushed for just 27 yards.
It was one of those games where day turned to night while you were there, and it was dark when Doug Buckles stepped on Eli’s foot on fourth down, sealing the deal.
Nick Saban would later talk about the atmosphere that day and the disrespect showed to his team by Ole Miss fans as LSU was entering the stadium. I found that odd coming from LSU. I really don’t think any team has the market cornered on unruly fans.