BATON ROUGE, La. — Les Miles stood behind a wooden podium just outside of LSU’s locker room in Tiger Stadium, his voice rising from just above a faint whisper to a pressed, breathless bellow.
Ole Miss, he demanded it be known, put forth a gutsy effort.
But while Miles is less-known for speaking plainly and clearly, he minced no words as his post-game news conference neared its end after LSU’s 41-35 win over the Rebels on Saturday.
“I tell ya – I did not expect that,” Miles said. “I expected that this would be a game that we all translate and win comfortably.”
Seconds later, he responded to a question about him not seeing it coming by returning fire, delivering, to laughter, “Did you? If you did, you should have told me.”
In fact, Miles shouldn’t have had to be told that the Rebels, regardless of their 5-5 record, were going to come hard at his Tigers.
It’s a rivalry and, though one lopsided in LSU’s favor, can always deliver a shocking result. Or, at the very least, take the favored team to the brink of upset.
Three of LSU’s 20 fourth-quarter comebacks under Miles have come against Ole Miss.
Saturday night, LSU got Ole Miss’ best shot and, echoing their head coach’s words, few wearing the white jerseys and gold pants expected the game to go quite like it did.
“They were feeling a rivalry and the tradition,” defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “They probably came out and probably played the best game of their life. I have nothing but respect for them.”
He added, “I saw it coming but I didn’t know it was going to come this hard.”
Said offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk, “I don’t think we expected as much as the score predicted right there, coming down there and having to get that last score. We were trying to hopefully be up by two touchdowns right there at the end.”
Make no mistake, the Rebels aren’t as bad as their record says.
Hugh Freeze has Ole Miss looking like it can be a contender, or at least a party crasher, for years to come. His offense presents problems for any team with its quick tempo and big-play capability from the quarterback.
He’s got everyone believing in the Ole Miss program.
“I’ve had a positive mindset on the success of our team before the season even started,” Ole Miss defensive back Senquez Golson said. “When we play big teams, we just have to finish.”
Yet, when the chips were pushed the middle, when LSU absolutely had to come through with something big, it did in all three phases of the game.
Instead of throwing in the towel, incredulous that the game was even close, Miles’ boys played like men.
Odell Beckham Jr. returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown. Lavar Edwards and Anthony Johnson had back-to-back sacks to push Ole Miss out of field-goal range. And Zach Mettenberger guided the offense on a nine-play, 64-yard game-winning drive.
And that’s what had Miles so pumped up and exuberant in his post-game fireside chat.
“Just so you know, I’m proud of those men,” he said, his voice again rising. “How easy it could have been to say it was their (Ole Miss’) night.”
Then, like his team, he put a bow on this rivalry in typical Milesian fashion.
“Spectacular group of men,” he said. “You go find them, throw your arms around them and you give them a big kiss on the mouth, if you’re a girl.
“Wow! What a game! Are you kidding me?”
No, Les. No one is kidding you. Welcome to another the Magnolia Bowl.