“I knew I had to make the second (field goal). The first one was going to be the difference, but I was fortunate enough to have another opportunity.” ANDREW RITTER, Ole Miss kicker
OXFORD, Miss — No. 6 LSU came into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday night hoping an improving defense would mesh with its potent offense and set the tone for a strong start to the season’s stretch run.
Instead, the Tigers left needing to accept more modest goals for the season after Andrew Ritter’s 41-yard field goal with 2 seconds left gave Ole Miss a 27-24 victory.
Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace stymied the defense’s recent progress, and Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw a career-worst three interceptions.
“This game is really on me,” Mettenberger said.
LSU, 6-2 and 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference, faces Furman in its homecoming game next Saturday.
It can still accomplish much with games next month against No. 1 Alabama and Texas A&M, which was No. 7 before losing to Auburn on Saturday, left among its four games. But a shot at the BCS title is all but officially gone, and a shot at the SEC West title would require a lot of help.
More pressing, though, is the need for LSU to shore up its once-again porous defense and get its offense back on track.
Ole Miss ran 84 plays and totaled 525 yards as Wallace completed 30 of 39 for 346 yards and Jaylen Walton ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and just do our job,” defensive tackle Ego Ferguson said. “People start getting anxious, and that’ll hurt us at the end of games.”
The Rebels defense, which was missing five injured starters, forced the most takeaways this season by LSU, which was coming off its least productive offensive performance in a 17-6 victory against Florida last week.
“We just didn’t execute like we have for the entire season,” said running back Jeremy Hill, who had just 64 yards on 16 carries, though he scored his 10th touchdown. “We kind of started clicking in the second half, but we came out flat.”
Mettenberger, who completed 19 of 33 passes, had just the second multi-interception game of his career. The other came against Ole Miss last season, when he threw two.
The Tigers trailed for nearly the entire game before tying the score on Mettenberger’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry with 3:19 remaining. But Wallace calmly guided the Rebels 61 yards in 14 plays to the winning points — much as Mettenberger did last season, when LSU broke a tie with Jeremy Hill’s touchdown with 15 seconds left in a 41-35 victory.
The Tigers were the highest-ranked opponent to lose to Ole Miss since 2008, when the Rebels beat No. 4 Florida.
LSU faced its largest deficit of the season when it fell behind 10-0 at halftime, and the margin grew to 17-0 early in the third quarter.
LSU finally stopped turning the ball over and found some offensive consistency with two third-quarter touchdowns before Colby Delahoussaye’s 41-yard field goal got it within seven points with 11:22 remaining.
The defense and special teams kept the deficit at seven points with a key stand midway through the fourth quarter. On third-and-goal from the 12, Danielle Hunter hit Wallace as he was passing, causing an incompletion. Ferguson then blocked Ritter’s 29-yard field goal.
The Tigers drove to a first down at the Ole Miss 31 before Mettenberger threw three consecutive incompletions.
LSU chose to go for it on fourth down and, after a timeout, Mettenberger threw a 15-yard completion to Odell Beckham Jr. Moments later on second-and-2 from the 4, Mettenberger found Landry with 3:19 left, but that was too much time for Wallace.
“I knew I had to make the second one,” Ritter said. “The first one was going to be the difference, but I was fortunate enough to have another opportunity.”
When I’Tavius Mathers was stopped for a 1-yard gain on third-and-5, LSU let approximately 20 seconds run off the clock before calling a timeout with 6 seconds left. After Ritter’s kick, the Tigers had time for just a kickoff return which, after a series of laterals, ended at the LSU 33.
Coach Les Miles said he didn’t call a timeout sooner because he was trying to get a field goal block set out.
Mettenberger passed for 274 yards, but his interceptions were the main factor in LSU being shut out in the first half for the first time in nearly two years as the Rebels took a 10-0 lead.
The Tigers’ first possession of the third quarter was a three-and-out, and Ole Miss zipped to Walton’s 2-yard scoring run and a 17-0 edge.
Mettenberger finally found a brief rhythm as he completed passes of 23 yards to Landry and 22 to Kadron Boone before turning to the running game. Four consecutive runs concluded with Kenny Hilliard’s 1-yard touchdown run.
LSU got the ball back three plays later when Ronald Martin caused and recovered a fumble by Mathers at the Tigers 49. Eight plays later, Hill ran 3 yards for a touchdown that got the Tigers within 17-14.
But Ole Miss needed just seven plays to drive 76 yards as Walton sprinted up the middle 26 yards for a touchdown that sent the Rebels into the fourth quarter with a 24-14 lead.
Korvic Neat fumbled a punt and Alfred Blue recovered for LSU at the Ole Miss 14, but the Tigers lost 10 yards in three plays, and Delahoussaye’s 41-yard field goal left Ole Miss with a 24-17 lead.
The ensuing stand by the Tigers defense set the stage for a reversal of last season’s dramatic finish, with the home team prevailing again.
Ole Miss converted 11 of 18 third downs, including two third-and-15s, a third-and-10 and three third-and-9s.