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The Final Whistle: Ole Miss can’t overcome turnovers, loses 53-48 to LSU

Wet, weird, wildly disappointing.

It was a weird, wet night in Baton Rouge as Ole Miss fell to LSU 53-48 in the 109th Magnolia Bowl on Saturday. Both teams were dealing with opt-outs (including leading receiver Elijah Moore and tight end Kenny Yeboah), the Rebels were coming off of a three-week hiatus and the skies opened up for much of the game.

To make the storyline even more interesting, head coaches Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron are good friends and came up through the coaching world together. They both coached under Pete Carroll at USC, Orgeron was Kiffin’s defensive coordinator at Tennessee and Kiffin was set to be Orgeron’s offensive coordinator at LSU before he took the FAU job.

At first, it looked like things were going to go in favor of the visitors. A defense that had struggled early began to find some semblance of identity as the season went on and held on a three-and-out to begin the game. Casey Kelly, Swag Jr., caught a 57-yard pass on the following possession and set up a great throw-and-catch to Braylon Sanders for the first points on either side.

The Tigers were forced to punt again six plays later, Matt Corral’s offense lost five yards and returned the favor, the home team added a field goal. It was at that point when Corral’s horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day began. He had played lights out after a six-interception performance against Arkansas, but the 2021 Heisman Trophy candidate fell back to his old ways.

On Ole Miss’ third offensive possession of the game, Corral threw a pick-six to giveaway the lead and followed it up with another interception two drives later. LSU capitalized on the turnover and went ahead 17-7 on 4th-and-goal with 12 minutes left in the second quarter.

NEVER FEAR, JERRION EALY IS HERE! Receiving the kickoff in his own end zone, he surprised everyone by taking out the return. Any doubt was quickly silenced as he slashed and dashed 107-ish yards to find the end zone. The two-sport dynamo (did you know he also plays baseball?) went crazy and out-ran everybody and their mothers.

Momentum was trending toward the Rebels after the defense forced another punt (!!) but Corral saw ghosts again and gave it all right back. The Tigers scored in four plays and reopened a 10-point lead that was quickly reeled in by Henry Parrish Jr. Coaches have been impressed with the true freshman runner and his workload has increased throughout hte year. It’s easy to see why, as he had the biggest gain of the drive and finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown run moments later.

It didn’t end up mattering, as the Swiss cheese defense returned and LSU went ahead 31-21 with an easy nine-play, 75-yard drive. Ole Miss had a chance to close the gap with just under a minute before the break, but Corral threw his fourth interception in the first half and went to the locker room behind 34-21 after another field goal.

Lane Kiffin addressed the inefficiencies and kept it pretty straightforward.

“We look like a team that hasn’t played in 21 days,” he said on his way into the tunnel.

The rain picked up to a torrential downpour as the Rebels received the second half kickoff, and Corral threw his fifth interception of the day to start it off. It was 37-21 after the Tigers tacked on a field goal. Things were just getting started and Corral found his groove.

With a 16-point deficit to overcome, Ole Miss drove 65 yards in five plays on a completion to Sanders, a scramble by the quarterback and a tough run from Parrish Jr. to find pay dirt.

In perhaps the biggest turning point of the night, the Landsharks started to swarm and forced a punt on three plays. The comeback was on and Corral put the team on his back. He broke free for 27 yards to get things started and wasn’t afraid of the consequences.

Parrish Jr. added 21, Ealy found space to gain 18 and Big John Drummond capped it off with a five-yard touchdown. The energy was palpable, the sideline was rocking and the life was seemingly sucked out of LSU after it was held to a field goal with four minutes left in the third quarter.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Sanders scored his second touchdown of the night on a 25-yard jump-ball in double coverage. It was the first Ole Miss lead since the first touchdown of the game. Something about Sanders.

The Tigers were driving in close to the end zone on the next possession, but A.J. Finley had other plans. He picked off Max Johnson to set up the most epic moment of the night. After driving 80 yards on 11 plays, Kiffin elected to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the two. He was so confident in the play call, that he walked back toward the sideline and signaled touchdown before the ball was even snapped. It did not come back to bite him, as Corral’s ball fake on a play-action bootleg was so nasty it fooled everyone. The camera man, the announcers, the defense and especially the head linesman.

We can pretend the game ended there, it’s more fun that way.

LSU answered with a touchdown of its own. Ole Miss punted with a two-point lead. LSU scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:34 remaining and forced a fumble on Corral to seal it.

The Rebels finish the regular season at 4-5 and will find out what bowl game they will play in as soon as Sunday afternoon.