The Associated Press
OXFORD – Every time it appears Mississippi’s miserable season can’t get any worse, the Rebels find a way to make it happen.
The latest embarrassment was Saturday, when No. 1 LSU crushed Ole Miss 52-3 on senior night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
LSU’s Ron Brooks returned an interception for a touchdown just 28 seconds into the game as the Tigers built a 35-3 lead by halftime and kept pounding away at the Ole Miss defense all night for 353 rushing yards.
“You can’t start the game the way we started, especially with a team like that,” coach Houston Nutt said. “The No. 1 team in the nation, you can’t give them gifts. One thing we didn’t want to do was turnovers, especially when they get seven points off the bat. That was the worst thing that could happen. They’re a really good football team. They’re a good football team, but we helped them.”
LSU’s domination of Mississippi was so complete that with more than five minutes remaining in the game, the Tigers lined up in a victory formation, content to kneel four straight times rather than try for another touchdown.
“Victory was assured,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “There was no reason to take snaps at that point.”
Actually, the Tigers had the win in hand much sooner.
LSU running back Michael Ford said Brooks’ big play was all the Tigers needed.
“It definitely took their breath away because it took our breath away, too,” Ford said.
The Tigers (11-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) matched their best start since 1958. It was the worst margin of defeat for Ole Miss since a 49-0 loss to Georgia in 1974.
Quarterback Jordan Jefferson started his second consecutive game, completing 7 of 7 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. Alfred Blue led the Tigers with 74 rushing yards while Spencer Ware added 70 yards and a touchdown.
Ole Miss (2-9, 0-7) has lost six straight games and a school-record 13 straight conference games. Barry Brunetti rushed for a team-high 74 yards as the Rebels managed just 195 total yards.
LSU completed all eight of its pass attempts – seven by Jefferson and one by Jarrett Lee – but was content to run the ball for most of the game after building a 21-0 lead with 5:11 remaining in the first quarter.
Kenny Hilliard rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown and Terrence Magee added 55 yards as LSU emptied its bench early and recovered from a lackluster effort in last week’s 42-9 win against Western Kentucky. Seven different players rushed for at least 25 yards and the Tigers averaged nearly eight yards per play.
Miles was almost apologetic postgame.
“It’s unfortunate to have a coach (Nutt) end a home stand in a fashion like today,” Miles said. “That being said, we look forward to our future. It’s something that we’re really pointed to. It’s a short week, but we’re looking forward to taking on a very talented Arkansas team (next weekend).”
LSU hosts No. 6 Arkansas on Friday in the regular-season finale for both teams.
The already outmanned Rebels were further crippled when Nutt suspended starting quarterback Randall Mackey and leading rusher Jeff Scott for violating team rules. Without them, the game turned ugly in a hurry.
Ole Miss started with the ball, and its first three plays were a disaster. Starting quarterback Zack Stoudt bounced an incompletion on the first play, Brandon Bolden dropped the next pass and then Stoudt threw a wild lob on a screen pass that was picked off by Brooks and returned 46 yards for a touchdown.
It never improved for the Rebels, who are 0-2 since it was announced on Nov. 7 that Nutt would not return for a fifth season. Nutt agreed to stay for the remainder of the season, and now Ole Miss must win next week’s game against Mississippi State to avoid its first 10-loss season in program history.
The Rebels’ lone score came on a 39-yard field goal by Bryson Rose, which was set up by Brunetti’s 47-yard run.