By Trey Mongrue
“From the first drive of the game, we ran it right at them… I could just tell that they were dog tired.” – LSU tight end Logan Stokes
For a split second, Logan Stokes panicked.
Trailing third-ranked Ole Miss 7-3 with a little over five minutes to go and the ball just three yards away from the end zone, the senior LSU tight end went into the huddle with excitement knowing that the play-action pass was coming his way. But when the ball was snapped, the Stokes noticed that the player guarding him, Ole Miss cornerback and NCAA interception leader Senquez Golson, didn’t bite right away on the fake handoff.
“If you watch it, I dove out to act like I was going to block [Golson],” Stokes recalled of the play, “At first, he kind of hesitated and I was like, ‘Oh no, this is not going to work.’”
But Stokes didn’t bail on his route.
It paid off as Golson bit on the play and LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings tossed a perfect pass to Stokes for the three-yard touchdown that ended up being the game-winning score.
“We had been doing that play all week in practice,” Jennings said after LSU’s 10-7 win over the Rebels. “We had the utmost confidence in that particular play.”
LSU coach Les Miles apparently had that play up his sleeve from the very beginning.
“Secret weapon,” he said with a smirk. “Don’t tell anybody.”
Just how secret? It was practically unheard of.
Since coming to LSU from Northeast Mississippi Community College before the start of last season, Stokes had played in every game since for LSU, but had yet to register a reception, let a lone a clutch fourth quarter touchdown grab.
On top of that, of the 12 plays before the touchdown, LSU kept the ball exclusively on the ground. The thirteenth play of the scoring drive surely fooled everybody in the stadium, but most noticeably the Ole Miss defense.
“We felt that they were overcommitted to the run,” Jennings said of Ole Miss. “They had no idea that the last play was coming. It was a great play call.”
For weeks on end this season, the LSU offense has come under fire from fans and media alike. Sure, the I-formation heavy rushing attack was leading to mostly positive results, but in college football world where the spread offense is posting gaudy video game-like scores and statistics, the Tigers’ offense seemed like a Vietnam War veteran in a room full of millennials.
But when the final seconds ticked off the clock of last Saturday’s game amidst a memorable Tiger Stadium atmosphere, there was a sense of vindication for the LSU offense.
“You might’ve thought that was a middle 1970s drive,” Miles said of the Tigers’ only touchdown drive of the game. “It was physical, it was pounding, really good call, a physically offensive line coming after them and being tenacious.
“It’s all a part of the overall scheme.”
For a run-heavy, passing deficient team, a win over Ole Miss was a tall order. The Rebels defense entered last Saturday’s game allowing less than 100 rushing yards per game and just 2.9 yards per carry.
That didn’t impede the LSU running backs from doing what they do best.
“We just kept hitting them with different backs throughout the game,” said freshman Leonard Fournette who led the Tigers with 113 rushing yards. “We just took it to them.”
With Fournette, Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, LSU refused to stray away from its bread and butter, averaging nearly five yards per carry for a total of 264 yards – the most given up by the Ole Miss Rebels this season. And while it did not lead to a touchdown for most of the game, it undoubtedly was working.
“From the first drive of the game, we ran it right at them,” explained Stokes who, when not catching touchdowns, is used mainly for run blocking purposes. “Towards the end of the game they were rotating defensive linemen in and out. I could just tell that they were dog tired.”
From there, with the Ole Miss defenders gasping for air and a raucous crowd firmly behind LSU, things set up perfectly for LSU to take it’s first lead of the game. In fashion that drew comparisons to legendary boxer Mohammed Ali’s “rope-a-dope” tactics in his 1974 bout with George Foreman, LSU let the Rebels tire out and then proceeded to punch them squarely in the mouth.
Starting at their own five-yard line, the Tigers doled out a heavy dose of Hilliard and were quickly across midfield since the opening drive of the third quarter.
“We were getting more than five or six yards a pop running the ball,” said Stokes.
After Hilliard a fresh Fournette came in and he did much of the same.
Following a 22-yard run to push the ball into the red zone, the talented freshmen provided the scene of the game when, during a six-yard carry, his facemask was nearly pulled off of his helmet. But despite the danger, Fournette kept pushing.
“I wasn’t scared, I was going to keep running,” he recalled. “That’s the first time that had ever happened to me.”
That lack of fear is something that the Tigers certainly have going for them at the moment. If there was one thing to take away from Saturday’s win over the Rebels, it is that LSU will never be so afraid of an opponent that it will force wholesale changes to its identity. That much has become apparent.
With a well-placed bye week to fully digest this recent three-game Southeastern Conference win streak, there is the matter of a date with Alabama at Tiger Stadium on the horizon.
“One thing about these Tigers,” said Miles. ”When you put them in Tiger Stadium and give us a little time to fix things, we can be very special.”