Nov 23, 2003
By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP Sports Writer
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - The stingiest defense in the country has LSU poised to move into the No. 3 spot when the next BCS standings are released.
The Tigers grabbed control of the SEC West race and remained a player in the national championship picture by shutting down Eli Manning and No. 15 Mississippi on Saturday.
"Our defense played like gangbusters," Tigers coach Nick Saban said.
Ohio State's loss to Michigan most likely clears out the No. 2 spot behind top-ranked Oklahoma in the Bowl Championship Series standings for USC.
LSU (10-1, 6-1) was fourth last week in the BCS standings.
The Tigers can clinch a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game by beating Arkansas in their season finale Friday.
The Trojans complete their season against Oregon State.
"We don't worry about all that stuff on the side," LSU defensive tackle Chad Lavalais said.
Lavalais sacked Manning three times and intercepted him once.
Manning was 16-for-36 for 200 yards with a touchdown and did little to help his Heisman Trophy candidacy.
"They were bringing pressure and we were trying to react to it and just didn't make plays," he said.
"I wouldn't say it was personal, but everybody said it was all about Eli," LSU cornerback Corey Webster said. "Everybody said he could win the Heisman off of us. We weren't going to let that happen."
The Rebels (8-3, 6-1) managed just 98 yards in the first three quarters and ran for 27 in the game.
"We wanted to make them one dimensional," Lavalais said.
The Rebels didn't score an offensive touchdown until Manning hit Brandon Jacobs for a 10-yard TD with 10:51 left in the fourth quarter.
The Rebels got in position to attempt a game-tying field goal with 4:15 left, but Jonathan Nichols missed from 36 yards.
Nichols came in 23-for-24, but missed twice against the Tigers.
"Our defense has been doing this all year," Lavalais said. "We were fortunate, like when that last field goal was no good, but you need that. But it's not luck, because we've been doing it all year."
Ole Miss got another chance with 2:15, but Manning couldn't complete a pass and LSU ran the clock down to just a few seconds before giving it back to the Rebels.
Lavalais kidded about how he was hoping LSU's offense would give Manning one more shot to put together a drive.
"Our guys were ready to go out there," he said. "I kind of thought, 'I hope they throw another interception so we can go out there and stop them again."'
Matt Mauck was 16-for-29 for 189 yards with two touchdowns, but threw three interceptions that helped keep Ole Miss close.
Travis Johnson picked off Mauck's pass on LSU's first play and returned it 6 yards for a touchdown to give Ole Miss a 7-0 lead.
The Rebels, who lead the SEC in scoring at 37 points per game, didn't score again until the fourth quarter.
"The defense bailed us out every time we messed up," Mauck said.
Ole Miss can still win the SEC West if LSU loses its season finale and the Rebels beat Mississippi State on Thanksgiving night.
"There's still a lot to play for," Rebels running back Vashon Pearson said. "Everything is still out there for us."
Nick Saban's defense shut down Eli Manning and the Ole Miss offense on Saturday.