BATON ROUGE, La. -- Remember the old days when LSU used to smother teams with defense while trying to get by with a pedestrian offense?
That's so three weeks ago.
Since its bye week, LSU seems to have re-invented itself, never more than in the Tigers' 41-35 win over Ole Miss Saturday night.
With the defense giving up a season-high 463 yards – the fourth straight game the Tigers have allowed at least 331 yards after not allowing 300 yards in any of the first seven games – LSU's offense came to the rescue.
The Tigers put up 427 yards of their own – 282 passing by quarterback Zach Mettenberger – and the Tigers drove 64 yards for the winning touchdown on Jeremy Hill's 1-yard, tie-breaking touchdown run with 15 seconds left.
Combine the winning drive with wide receiver Odell Beckham's 89-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and, get this, LSU's offense was the one to bailed out the defense.
It was just in time for the seventh-ranked Tigers (9-2, 5-2 in the SEC) to survive the upset bid from Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5) after falling behind by as much as 28-20 late in the third quarter.
"The defense has done it so much for us and helped us out all year," said Mettenberger, who completed 22-of-37 pass attempts to continue his three-game hot streak. "Tonight was just role reversal where we had to put up points and help our defense out."
If you hadn't kept up with LSU since its bye week, you'd likely not have thought it was possible. In its first four SEC games before the bye, LSU's offense managed 318.3 yards and 16.3 points per game. Since the bye, the Tigers are averaging 418 yards and 31.7 points in three games.
It's been just in time, because the defense has sprung a leak. After not allowing a 300-yard passing game in the season's first nine games, the Tigers' secondary has allowed back-to-back 300-yard games. On Saturday, Bo Wallace completed 15-of-35 pass attempts for 310 yards, the most yards allowed by LSU this season.
The secondary's slump dates back to the last drive of the 21-17 loss to Alabama Nov. 3 when the Crimson Tide drove 72 yards for the winning touchdown with less than a minute remaining. Since then, the Tigers' young secondary, which looked so good early, has suddenly been vulnerable.
"We made a couple mental errors," LSU safety Eric Reid said after Saturday's game. "We missed tackles that allowed [Ole Miss] to get two easy touchdowns at the beginning of the game. We just had to battle back."
Indeed, there were blown tackles on Wallace's 58-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and on a 56-yard touchdown pass from Wallace to Donte Moncrief later in the first quarter.
Moncrief, the Rebels' talented receiving leader, got behind the Tigers' cornerbacks all night. He had six catches, 161 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The Tigers gave up big passes on third downs and looked out of sorts trying to prevent big plays.
"What we've got to do in the next six days between now and the next game is work in pass coverage," LSU coach Les Miles said. "Honestly, this is the kind of film that will be truly beneficial to our secondary. They will develop."
Lately, The Tigers are playing better pass offenses who might be better equipped to better exploit the youth of a Tigers secondary that was left with only one returning starter after the August dismissal of Heisman Trophy finalist cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.
Where LSU was tested early in SEC play by the running threats posed by Florida and South Carolina, the Tigers were able to perhaps hide deficiencies in the secondary.
At the same time, LSU's own passing offense has come into its own. A Tigers offense that had been run heavy for years perhaps needed time to develop, and, after the bye week, that seems to have happened.
Not that it was perfect Saturday. Mettenberger threw two interceptions and Jarvis Landry had a fumble. The Tigers also sputtered in the red zone.
"We definitely left some points out there," Landry said.
They were also clutch.
On the winning drive, Mettenberger completed 4-of-5 pass attempts, including a first-down pass to Kadron Boone, one of several big plays made by Tigers receivers, none bigger than Beckham's punt return.
At a school where the most famous play in school history is Billy Cannon's 89-yard punt return against Ole Miss on Halloween in1959, Beckham's return stirred memories.
Down 35-28, Beckham took the punt near the left hash, darted right toward the boundary and up the sideline for the tying score with 9:10 left.
"That was maybe the biggest momentum changer in a game that I saw," said Miles.
And it came from an offensive player this time.
With a defense that finally looks like it's missing Mathieu, an offensive player took over another Honey Badger role – big play punt returner – and helped bail the Tigers out.