Following a weekend that featured two thrilling wins, LSU and No. 12 Ole Miss will search for normalcy when they square off in Oxford, Miss., on Saturday.
In retrospect, so much in the Louisiana bayou and northern Mississippi has changed over the past 10 months for the SEC West opponents.
Last Dec. 19, on the day Alabama beat Florida in Atlanta for the SEC championship, LSU led Ole Miss 34-21 at halftime and scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:34 left as the Tigers won 53-48 in miserably cold, rainy conditions in Baton Rouge.
But after numerous rumors this season, Tigers coach Ed Orgeron and the school went through a divorce of sorts on Sunday following LSU’s 49-42 home upset of then-No. 20 Florida.
While LSU (4-3, 2-2) should have been basking in the glory of Tyrion Davis-Price’s school-record 287 rushing yards and three touchdowns and the defense’s four-interception effort, Orgeron and the school parting ways led the news.
Just 21 months removed from a 15-0 national championship season anchored by Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and 13 other NFL-bound players, the university agreed to pay the remaining $16.95 million of the six-year coach’s contract and start anew in 2022.
“We’re going to finish,” said Orgeron, 60, who is 5-0 against Ole Miss but 9-8 since winning the 2019 season title. “We’re not going to blink. I’m going to be right there with them.”
After struggling all season to find its running game, LSU amassed 321 yards on the ground as a nearly two-touchdown home underdog against the Gators — averaging 7.1 yards per carry on its 45 rushes.
In the series, LSU has won five straight and six of the past seven against Ole Miss.
The Tigers are 64-41-4 in the 109 career meetings, including an 11-8-1 mark in Oxford.
Coach Lane Kiffin’s Rebels (5-1, 2-1) survived a crazy night in Knoxville — hanging on over six frantic plays at the end by Tennessee to beat the Volunteers 31-26.
Following a lengthy delay after an embarrassing trash-throwing episode by Tennessee fans — UT was fined $250,000 — the defense held on for Ole Miss’ victory.
But after finishing 4-5 in Kiffin’s inaugural campaign, Ole Miss has become one of college football’s best stories by working its way up the polls and standings behind QB Matt Corral — a front-running Heisman candidate — and an explosive offense that churns out 553 yards per game.
The Ventura, Calif., native was outstanding at Rocky Top, earning SEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors after accounting for 426 yards — 195 rushing on 30 carries.
He became the first Ole Miss player with 30 carries since BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 33 in 2007.
“I’d like that to be a running back and not our 200-pound quarterback, so he’s not in very good shape. Hasn’t been for two days,” Kiffin said in Monday’s press conference.
Corral moved into third all-time in total offense and passing TDs at Ole Miss, and the junior has scoring throws in 18 straight games.
“He’s one of the top players in the country,” Orgeron said. “He’s very fast, can run the football, throw the football. You can see he plays with his heart and character.
“I’ve been looking at Matt Corral all morning. … Knowing Matt and knowing coach Kiffin, he’s kind of throwing me a smokescreen,” the lame-duck coach quipped of Kiffin’s injury assessment.
–Field Level Media