LSU’s first defeat of a ranked opponent under first-year coach Brian Kelly didn’t start particularly pretty.
But the Tigers (6-2, 4-1) quickly and frequently more than made up for a slow first quarter with an eventual 45-20 dismantling of No. 7 Ole Miss (7-1, 3-1) that briefly drew fans to the field in postgame celebration.
“Exciting day in Tiger Stadium,” Kelly said. “Our guys wanted this opportunity. They saw this as a privilege to play in this stadium and really wanted this opportunity. Obviously the last three quarters, (we) played great football. At the end of the day, when you have a top team coming in, that’s why you come to LSU.”
After falling behind, 17-3, in the opening moments of the second quarter, the Tigers all but shut out the typically high-powered Rebels for nearly three quarters.
Ole Miss followed up a 200-yard first quarter with 204 the rest of the way, including just 112 after halftime, and finished with its lowest scoring output of the season.
Junior quarterback Jayden Daniels — on a record-setting afternoon — and the purple-and-gold offense meanwhile began rolling to 42 of the next 45 points.
Daniels finished 21-for-28 (75%) with 248 yards and two passing yards.
“The quarterback was excellent again, back to back weeks, leading the offense,” Kelly said. “He was the catalyst for us making quick decisions. He was assertive, aggressive.”
And his 23 carries for 121 yards and three scores broke LSU’s records for most rushing touchdowns and rushing yards in a single season by a quarterback.
The transfer from Arizona State has now run his way to the end zone nine times in eight games, surpassing a previous best of seven by a Tigers passer, and totaled 642 yards in the process.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard that, but that’s a great feeling,” Daniels said. “I give thanks to coach Kelly and especially my O-line and the receivers on the perimeter blocking, because I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Ole Miss and LSU’s own penalties put the Tigers quickly into tenuous footing.
The Rebels cruised 70 yards to a 6-yard Quinshon Judkins touchdown run on the game’s first five plays, held the Tigers to a 23-yard field goal in the red zone and then marched back downfield for another eventual Judkins score.
Three flags on LSU’s coverage helped sustain the second Ole Miss drive — including one pass interference negating a Greg Brooks Jr. interception and another a fourth-down stop.
The Tigers then missed a 42-yard field goal attempt on their second possession, and Ole Miss began moving swiftly to extend its 14-3 lead.
LSU held the Rebels to a 32-yard field goal to start the second quarter, though, and then found its offense in efficient, if not impressive fashion the next two possessions.
“It’s been who they are from the very first time that I stepped on campus with this team is that they had fight in ’em,” Kelly said. “Now, all the other things: consistency, execution, doing the little things on a daily basis, that’s coming.
“And I’ve said this on a number of occasions: We can’t just rely on being great fighters. And we’re not anymore. We’re executing on a high level, we’re exerting our will, our best players are now starting to play their best football and they’re playing, quite frankly, with a lot of confidence right now. And that’s a pretty good thing.”
Daniels led back-to-back touchdown drives of 75 and 78 yards capped by a 34-yard pass to senior wide receiver Jaray Jenkins and then 3-yard quarterback keeper to pull back even.
Ole Miss added a 48-yard field goal to take a 20-17 lead into the half.
But the Tigers only continued to take further control from there.
“When we give (Daniels) time, he’s the best quarterback in the country,” freshman left tackle Will Campbell said. “When we give him time and let him have enough time to do what he does and the receivers time to get open and the running backs holes to run, we have one of the best offenses in the country.”
Daniels found Mason Taylor for a 1-yard touchdown, the freshman tight end’s first, with 8:25 remaining in the third quarter.
And seniors Micah Baskerville and Joe Foucha teamed up for a quarterback hurry and one-handed interception in the other end zone to end the Rebels’ once-promising push for an answer.
“Man, it was really a run defense,” Baskerville said. “I was just like regardless of it being pass or run, I’m going. If it’s a pass, I have to make a play and get to the quarterback.”
Daniels added rushing touchdowns of 11 and 17 yards in the fourth quarter to break and extend the program record.
And Josh Williams added a goal-line exclamation mark in the final minutes as the Tigers continued to flex their muscles.
The junior running back finished with 76 yards and the touchdown on 17 carries.
Junior receiver Kayshon Boutte and sophomore receiver Malik Nabers each caught four passes for 43 yards and 37 yards, respectively.
Taylor had 44 receiving yards to go with his score.
“We have found our rhythm,” Daniels said. “The biggest thing in the offensive unit is trust, and we all trust each other. I am going to give them the ball where they can go out there and make a play, and they trust me to put it in the right spot.”
Baskerville led the team with eight tackles, including one for loss, and a pair of pass breakups.
Sophomore defensive lineman Mekhi Wingo finished with seven tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and a pair of breakups.
And freshman linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. was one of six Tigers with five or more tackles and also added a sack, a pair of hurries and a breakup.
“We have a lot of confidence in Matt House,” Baskerville said. “We know that he’s going to make the right adjustments to get it done so we can succeed. We know he’s going to put us all in the right position to succeed, and we know he knows how to use us.”