There are a lot of things you might have believed before the game, but not one of them was that LSU was going to have to score on its last possession to beat Ole Miss.
“Wow! What a game!” LSU coach Les Miles said. “Are you kidding me?”
No kidding. That 41-35 final was real.
But LSU did, in fact, put the ball in the end zone with 15 seconds left to win what a sometimes-giddy, sometimes defiant, clearly emotional coach Les Miles offered to be called the “Wild and Wooly Game.
”Why not? The wildest and wooliest was freshman running back Jeremy Hill, who continues to be a one-man wrecking crew when he gets near the goal line.
“Hill’s given it to us down there when we need it,” said sixth-year offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk, not only one of the biggest men to ever come out of New Iberia but without a doubt the best quote. “He’s coming up with those big plays and he’s almost like the closer. He’s coming in in certain situations when we need to him to put the game away and he’s getting that big run or getting that big touchdown or whatever it is and for us as an offense he’s a go-to guy.”
Hill played sparingly in two games before that, but it all started with his coming-out party against South Carolina. In LSU’s 23-21 victory on October 13 the product of Redemptorist ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns, capping the win with a 50-yarder with 5:03 left.
The next week, in a 24-19 at Texas A&M, Hill ran for 127 more yards and another TD, this time a 47-yarder that proved to be the winning margin.
Against Alabama, in Tiger Stadium two weeks ago, Hill rushed for yet 107 more and another TD.
And last week against Mississippi State, the 235-pounder finally was cooled off, gaining 47 yards without a TD.
But then he was wild and wooly again Saturday, carrying the ball 20 times for 77 yards and three TDs, runs of 27 yards in the first quarter, 1 yard in the third, and then the game-winner, a 1-yarder that kept the Tigers in the hunt for a good bowl game instead of whatever happens to teams that slump late and carry a loss to Ole Miss on its ledger.
That’s five remarkable games for a kid whose career was in doubt after he was arrested as a senior in high school, arrested on a sexual assault charge that eventually saw him plead guilty to a lesser charge, carnel knowledge of a juvenile, a misdemeanor. It kept him from coming to LSU the year after he finished high school and, for that matter, he’s still in the midst of a two-year probation.
He’s got to feel awful good about where things have ended up, all things considered.
“Yeah, there’s time for that, but for the most part the season’s not over yet,” Hill said. “When the season’s over, I’ll have time for that, but for right now we’re always moving forward and focusing on the next opponent and thanking those offensive lineman. Because without those O-lineman I couldn’t be doing half the stuff I’m doing.”
His quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, is impressed with the 6-foot-2 steamroller.
“To be a freshman, the dude’s a beast,” Mettenberger said. “He’s a physical runner and he can beat you with speed, too, which is something special when a 235-pound kid can outrun DBs.”
Hill, who seems very even-keeled and soft-spoken, said he missed some cuts and was critical of himself, but recognized this was a special victory for LSU.
“I think we did a good job of overcoming adversity,” Hill said. His team was intercepted twice and was penalized six times for 56 yards. All eight of those miscues loomed large at one time or another.
“It was tough at times, with the turnovers, but we kept fighting and kept moving the ball.
”It was another good game for Mettenberger, who completed 22 of 37 passes for 282 yards which doesn’t included a 50-yarder that was negated by one of those penalties. Much like Hill, Mettenberger has come on strong the last month, especially the previous two games when he completed 24 of 35 against Alabama for 298 yards and a TD and then 19 of 30 for 273 more yards and two scores against Mississippi State.
Yeah, but I would say the most important thing is the offensive line,” Mettenberger said. “They’re keeping pressure off me and making holes for running backs. So defenses, like coach Miles says, has to pick their poison, especially now that we’re hitting shots downfield and we’re executing in the passing game.
“Jeremy Hill’s been a big factor for this year and he’s got a special future ahead of him.”
That future includes a short week, since LSU plays at Arkansas on Friday, which happens to be the day after Thanksgiving and, like when LSU plays Ole Miss, a series when seemingly anything can happen.
If anything does, be sure to catch the video of Miles’ postgame news conference. For that matter, go back and check him out after Saturday. He said “fricking” twice and there was some debate about whether or not he got the “r” in the second one.
Regardless, two games remain for LSU, against the Razorbacks and then the bowl, wherever that may be. You can figure on both outings to be wild, wooly or some combination of both.
--- Baton Rouge sportswriter and television host Lee Feinswog has been covering LSU sports since 1984 and is the author of three books, two about LSU football. Find him and watch clips from his show at www.sports225.com.