By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
OXFORD, Miss. — Ed Orgeron wanted this one badly.
The fiery Cajun coach can profess otherwise all he wants, but Orgeron didn’t want to leave Vaught-Hemingway Stadium without handing an L to the school that fired him 10 years ago.
Everything LSU does is about the team and never him, Orgeron insists. One team, one heartbeat. He’d never ask his players to exact a measure of revenge on his behalf or ostensibly treat a trip to Oxford any differently than any other road game.
Turns out he didn’t have to.
“Even before the game, we felt the energy,” nose tackle Greg Gilmore said. “He didn’t say anything out of character, but we felt the energy. We played for him a little bit and we played for our team. We know the history. That fueled us a little bit.”
“Coach O didn’t talk about it a lot, but we knew we had to pull it out for him,” Derrius Guice added.
An inspired LSU rolled over Ole Miss 40-24 for its third consecutive win over a Southeastern Conference rival — two coming away from Tiger Stadium — on Saturday night and now heads into the pre-Alabama bye week with a full head of steam.
Three weeks ago LSU was a team in turmoil with Orgeron and the administration that hired him under fire following a disastrous loss to Troy. Now the Tigers (6-2, 3-1 SEC) will head to Tuscaloosa in two weeks with control of its destiny in the SEC West race.
“We were in a hole, and we dug ourselves out of a hole,” Orgeron said. “We understand who we are now. We have to play with passion and we have to play with energy. We have to work hard to get the things we want. It just doesn’t happen. We have to continue to work.”
An all-the-way-back Guice made sure of it on a night when LSU complied 593 yards of total offense behind a line starting two true freshmen.
Tag-teaming with Darrel Williams, Guice dominated the game on the ground for LSU, racking up a season-high 276 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown. In the process he became the first running back in SEC history with three 250+ yard games in a career.
The preseason All-American had everything working except the take-it-the-distance burst and looked like his formidable self against a porous Rebel run defense.
Williams chipped in with 208 yards from scrimmage (105 receiving, the most by an LSU running back since 1989) to complement his backfield mate’s efforts. They racked up 493 scrimmage yards between them and gave Ole Miss fits by putting the two-headed monster on the field together.
“I think they got a lot to worry about,” Williams said. “They can’t just focus on me or just him, it’s more to worry about.”
Guice eclipsed the 100-yard mark on his seventh carry and totaled more yardage in the first half than he registered in the Florida and Auburn games combined. He ripped off successive runs of 9, 59 and 7 yards, plunging into the end zone on the third carry for the game’s first touchdown.
“Every game is a must-win game,” Guice said. “I know this game in particular mean a lot more to Coach O from his history here, but other than that, every game is a must win. We shouldn’t lose any. We should’ve have lost any, to be honest. We’re LSU. We’ve got to act like it.”
The Tigers appeared to catch a major break when Ole Miss star quarterback Shea Patterson briefly left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury. Jordan Ta’Amu, Patterson’s backup, promptly took over and drove the Rebels deep into LSU territory for a field goal to cut the deficit to 13-6 at halftime.
Patterson returned to start the third quarter, and one of the two defenses that played bend-but-don’t-break in the first half began to spring major leaks. The two sides traded field goals coming out of the break before LSU kicked its offense into overdrive and pulled away.
Another long Guice run moved LSU deep into Rebel territory and Danny Etling, who dealt with overwhelming pressure in the first half, put his head down and dove into the end zone from 5-yards out. Ole Miss (3-4, 1-3 SEC) responded with a touchdown of its own, capitalizing on some shoddy tackling.
The LSU defense locked down from there, particularly in the secondary.
Etling found JD Moore for his first career shovel pass to re-extend the lead to two scores. Safety John Battle made the defensive play of the game, intercepting a tipped pass from Patterson near the goal line. LSU also sacked Patterson three times on the night, led by two from a rejuvenated Arden Key.
LSU quickly cashed in again with a 60-yard strike from Etling to a wide-open Foster Moreau that effectively sealed the result. No Rebel defender was within 20 yards as he hauled in the pass and turned upfield.
Kevin Toliver wrestled a Patterson pass out of a receiver’s hands for LSU’s third interception of Patterson and Culp drilled a 47-yard field goal, his fourth of the night, to cap his own monster night.
It’ll be a celebratory flight back to Baton Rouge for Orgeron and his troops heading into a much-needed week off. The toughest test of the season is still ahead of them, and Orgeron wasted no time making sure they knew it.
“We talked about it in (the locker room),” Orgeron said. “It is a big deal. LSU-Alabama, it doesn’t get bigger than that. But we’ll worry about that when we come back from our break.”
That’s a problem for another day. For now, whether or not Orgeron wants to admit it, this one will be one to enjoy for players and coach alike.