OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - LSU's Zach Mettenberger has been so good for so long that it was shocking to see his passes miss open receivers.
Even worse: Mississippi's defense was catching those balls instead.
The end result was Mettenberger's worst game of the season and a stunning 27-24 loss to Ole Miss on Saturday that seriously damaged any hope the Tigers (6-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) had of winning a league championship.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound senior completed 19 of 33 passes for 274 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw three interceptions, including two in the end zone that killed potential scoring drives.
All three were thrown into tight Ole Miss coverage.
"Just bad plays," Mettenberger said after Saturday's game. "They made good plays on balls and just bad plays by me. I've got to be smarter."
Mettenberger had thrown only two interceptions through six games before the Ole Miss debacle. The struggles were particularly perplexing considering the Rebels' banged-up defense was missing five regular starters.
LSU coach Les Miles tried to take some of the blame off Mettenberger and put it on himself. He said the offense forced too many deep pass attempts early in the game and should have been content to make shorter passes or run the ball.
"I can tell you that I did a poor job on preparing this football team for playing this game," Miles said. "There is a way I could prepare this team to put them in a better position emotionally and prepare them to play in the kind of stadium that they played in tonight. We gave them too many turnovers ... Our football team will get better. This one is on me. I take it."
LSU dropped seven spots in the latest rankings to No. 13 and the Tigers are now two games behind Alabama in the loss column in the Western Division. They play Furman - a Football Championship Subdivision foe - on Saturday in Baton Rouge before a showdown with the Tide on Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Mettenberger's problems in the passing game were surprising, but LSU's shaky defense was also partly to blame.
LSU clawed all the way back from a 17-0 deficit to tie the game 24 on Mettenberger's 4-yard pass to Jarvis Landry with 3:19 remaining. All three of Mettenberger's interceptions came in the first half and he played much better after the break.
But the defense couldn't hold.
The Tigers gave up 525 total yards to the Rebels. Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace completed 30 of 39 passes for 346 yards and continually connected with receivers on third down to keep drives alive. Jaylen Walton, a 5-foot-8, 166-pound sophomore, rushed for a career-high 105 yards and two touchdowns.
The Rebels converted three times on third down on the final drive, which set up Andrew Ritter's game-winning 41-yard field goal.
Moments after it sailed through the uprights and LSU's final kick return fell short, the dejected Tigers walked off the field, knowing their SEC title hopes are very slim.
"That hurt," LSU defensive lineman Ego Ferguson said. "We played with a lot of passion and tried to finish the game right, so it hurts bad losing like that. Hats off to them, they did a good job. They were just the better team today."
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