BATON ROUGE, La. — Bring on ‘Bama.
That should be the thought on Tigers fans’ minds after LSU football had its best performance on Saturday against No. 7 Mississippi, defeating the Rebels 45-20 in front of over 100,000 screaming fans in Tiger Stadium.
LSU (6-2, 4-1) got off to another slow start – falling behind 17-3 – but dominated the Rebels (7-1, 3-1) in the final three quarters, finishing off the game on a 42-3 run.
The Tigers ran the ball effectively on offense, thanks to quarterback Jayden Daniels, and kept the Rebels’ rushing attack at bay on defense. The passing game was efficient and the pass rush was fierce, as Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart was sacked just twice but constantly pressured.
It was as well-rounded of a performance as the Tigers have had all year against a Power Five opponent, let alone a top-10 one. And the victory sets up a marquee matchup in Tiger Stadium in two weeks against No. 6 Alabama, a game that could potentially decide the fate of the SEC West.
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A struggling secondary steps it up
In the eyes of many, including Brian Kelly, the key for LSU’s defense against Ole Miss’ attack was to slow down the Rebels’ rushing attack and make Dart, the sophomore quarterback, beat them through the air.
But unfortunately for LSU, that’s exactly what Dart did in the first half.
Dart completed 9-of-10 passes for 156 yards in the first quarter alone, confidently pinning balls on his receivers and pushing the ball downfield. The Tigers held up against the Ole Miss rushing attack but it didn’t matter, as Dart finished the half with 204 passing yards and 11 completions on 16 attempts.
He nearly threw two interceptions, the first was called back for pass interference and the second fell just ahead of the outstretched arms of Sage Ryan. And LSU’s defense helped him out with some penalties – including three pass interference calls during the Rebels’ second touchdown drive.
But Dart was still excellent and forced LSU to adjust in the second half. And the Tigers did more than just adjust, allowing just six points after the first quarter, applying plenty of pressure on Dart and picking off the Southern Cal transfer in the third to help seal the win.
Last week’s progress on offense was real
It’s safe to say that last week wasn’t a fluke.
LSU’s offense came to play against the Rebels, posting 262 total yards in the first half and not punting until there was 1:07 left in the half. Daniels threw for 164 yards and scored two total touchdowns, as the Tigers ran for 4.7 yards per carry and outgained Ole Miss’ prolific rushing attack, 98-84.
Daniels was quick with his reads and generally had enough time in the pocket to survey the field. The Tigers also won at the line of scrimmage in the running game and played with a brisk pace.
It wasn’t as perfect as the Tigers’ start last week against Florida, in which they scored touchdowns on each of their opening six drives. They had trouble finishing off drives, settling for field goal attempts on their opening two drives – making the first and missing the second.
But a 34-yard touchdown pass to Jaray Jenkins and a quarterback keeper and score from Daniels to start the second quarter cut the LSU deficit from 14 to a tied game.
The Tigers then eventually took their first lead of the game on their second drive of the second half, as Daniels found Mason Taylor for a score on third and goal to cap off a 10-play, 50-yard drive. Daniels then ran it in himself for an 11-yard score on the next drive to hand LSU the 31-20 lead.
Jayden Daniels, the runner
Daniels has improved immensely as a passer in recent weeks, throwing for 349 yards against Florida and being more decisive with his reads. Both trends continued on Saturday, as he completed 21-of-28 throws and threw for two scores.
But the Arizona State transfer also got it done as a runner against the Rebels. Daniels ran for three scores and a team-high 107 yards, breaking the single-season LSU rushing touchdown record for a quarterback in the process.
He was the driving force in LSU’s rushing attack, which finished the game with 252 yards.
Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser and the USA TODAY Sports South Region. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @KokiRiley.