LSU's defense plays key role in victory over Ole Miss

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) -- The tiniest Tiger came up with the biggest play for No. 1 LSU.

Trindon Holliday returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and the Tigers came up with a couple of pivotal turnovers to hold off Mississippi 41-24 on Saturday and keep the national championship directly in their sights.

The Tigers clinched their first outright Southeastern Conference Western Division title and set a school record with 10 or more wins for the third straight season. LSU's top spot in the Bowl Championship Series standings seems safe, too.

The long kickoff was a long time coming for LSU's return teams as far as the 5-foot-5 Holliday was concerned.

"All I wanted to do is try to change things," Holliday said. "I just saw it open with one crease and I hit it as hard as I could. I knew it was coming, but I'm glad we finally got one done."

LSU players said they weren't looking for style points coming into the game against their biggest rival, and they won't get any.

After a stylish start, forcing two turnovers on goal-line stands in the first half, the Tigers (10-1, 6-1 SEC) defense faltered against the last place Rebels (3-8, 0-7), who are in danger of going winless in the league for the first time since 1982.

Brent Schaeffer rallied Ole Miss with 17 second-half points and the Rebels finished with 466 total yards -- 91 more than LSU has allowed any opponent this season.

The Tigers needed two short-field scoring drives in the fourth quarter after failed onside kick attempts by the Rebels to pull away. Schaeffer finished with career highs of 208 yards passing and 94 rushing.

His serpentine 38-yard touchdown run cut LSU's lead to 34-24 midway through the fourth quarter. He also added a 33-yard touchdown pass with the game out of reach.

"He was more elusive and quicker than I remember him from last year," LSU coach Les Miles said. "He made some plays for them with his legs and his arm. But this was a learning experience. We've got to see if we can get it fixed."

It was the fourth consecutive win for LSU and the sixth straight against Ole Miss. The Rebels are now 0-6 against top-ranked teams.

Craig Steltz had rally ending interceptions late in each half, and Jacob Hester and Charles Scott each rushed for scores after those failed onside kicks. Matt Flynn and Keiland Williams also added rushing touchdowns and Colt David hit second-half field goals of 48 and 43 yards.

Ole Miss tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis earned his second straight 1,000-yard season with 53 yards rushing for a total of 1,020 with a game to go. But his goal-line fumble on LSU's 1-yard line in the first quarter was his most memorable play.

The Rebels drove 57 yards to the LSU 2 on their second drive. But as Green-Ellis started to stretch the ball across the goal line on the next play, backup middle linebacker Jacob Cutrera, making the start for injured Darry Beckwith, caused the fumble at the 1 with his helmet.

The Ole Miss defense came through, forcing LSU to punt after three plays, and the Rebels' special teams struck. Returner Marshay Green fielded the ball on the run and broke three tackles on a 44-yard punt return to tie the score 7-7.

The Rebels seemed to grab the momentum there, but LSU answered when Holliday broke a tackle around the 30 and returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to put the Tigers up 14-7 with 3:04 left in the first quarter.

Ole Miss threatened to tie the game going into halftime after driving to LSU's 4. But coaches yanked Schaeffer after the Rebels were called for a delay of game penalty.

Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron said he went back to starter Seth Adams because Schaeffer was having problems getting the plays called quickly.

"Brent hadn't been in there in a while and we tried to change the plays to get the formation right. It just wasn't working the way we wanted it to work," Orgeron said.

Adams ended up making things worse.

He was nearly picked off by LSU's Ali Highsmith on the next play and a 15-yard personal foul pushed Ole Miss back to the 24.

LSU got it right on the next play when Steltz intercepted Adams' pass in the back of the end zone.

Schaeffer started the second half, leading the Rebels to 266 yards in the final 30 minutes.

Steltz ended the threat by picking off Schaeffer with 5:05 left in the game. But whether the athletic scrambler exposed a flaw in LSU's defense or simply exploited a lack of focus remains to be seen.

"We got more yards than they did by putting Brent in there, and spreading them out was a good idea," Orgeron said. "We made some plays, but we didn't get it done."

Part of the Rebels' late success may have had to do with the absence of defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who's been nursing a knee injury. The All-American helped clog the middle in the first half, but was held out of several series late and finished with two tackles.

Dorsey declined interview requests after the game. Miles said he held Dorsey out so he would be ready for next week's game against Arkansas.

After the Razorbacks and Darren McFadden next week, LSU will face either Tennessee or Georgia in the SEC championship game. Two wins should be enough to get the Tigers a spot in the BCS national title game in New Orleans on Dec. 1.

"We've still got some work to do," LSU safety Danny McCray said. "We still have some games to play. I think we still have time to improve."