Nov. 16, 2004
(AP) -- Once it became evident that LSU's chances of repeating as national champions were virtually nonexistent, coach Nick Saban had just one message for his team: Play like champions.
The 14th-ranked Tigers will look to continue doing just that as they host Southeastern Conference rival Mississippi on Saturday.
All hopes of another run at a national title ended when LSU was demolished by then-No. 3 Georgia 45-16 on Oct. 2.
"(That defeat) was a curveball to me," Saban admitted. "When things like this happen, you must dig deep down inside."
The Tigers (7-2, 4-2 SEC) have responded with four straight wins, including Saturday's 26-10 victory over Alabama. Now, they want to keep the momentum going against Ole Miss.
"Our team made a step in trying to create an identity for itself," Saban said. "We really (have) competed well, played with a lot of toughness and tenacity. I think those are important ingredients in trying to develop competitive character in a team."
Last week's mantra before facing the Crimson Tide was "Beating Alabama means something."
This week, Saban is trying to tell his team how important it is to finish the regular season with a 9-2 record. More importantly, he doesn't want the Tigers to have a letdown against a fierce rival.
He reminded his team that the last two games between LSU and Ole Miss have been decided by a total of four points as LSU won 14-13 in 2002 and 17-14 last year.
"This is a rivalry game, and emotion has a lot to do with it," Saban said. "So anybody who's not ready for a fight and a tough game in this game is probably not thinking right. ... (Ole Miss) has enough good football players to beat anybody that they play, and they've certainly played extremely well against us in every game that we've played against them since I've been here."
Mississippi has already had its chances of reaching a third straight bowl game squashed. Now, the Rebels hope to ruin LSU's plans.
"The balloon definitely burst," Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said after a 35-3 loss to Arkansas on Saturday guaranteed the Rebels a losing record.
Ole Miss (3-6, 2-4) needed to close the season with three straight wins to reach the six-victory plateau, then hope a minor bowl would extend an invitation.
"It was a very disappointing loss because everything was in place," Cutcliffe said. "The most important premium we have right now is a motivated football player. That's what we will really be looking for over these last two games.
"We still have a chance to salvage some of the season, but it's going to take effort from everyone involved."
LSU holds a 51-37-4 advantage in the series, but the Rebels have won three of the last four at Tiger Stadium.