OXFORD, Miss. (AP) _ Stellar defense, just enough offense and a little good fortune kept LSU in the hunt for a national championship _ and No. 15 Mississippi from clinching its first SEC West title. The No. 3 Tigers held Eli Manning and the high-scoring Rebels in check for three quarters, then withstood a fourth-quarter rally to earn a 17-14 victory Saturday. Matt Mauck threw two touchdown passes for LSU (10-1, 6-1), which now controls the SEC West race and can clinch its second trip to the conference title game in three years with a victory over Arkansas. The Tigers were fourth in the latest BCS standings, but with Ohio State's loss they are sure to move up a spot next week. ``It wasn't pretty, but our character and maturity showed,'' LSU coach Nick Saban said. ``Their defense really played well, too. It's a shame somebody lost, but I was definitely relieved to get the W.'' Ole Miss (8-3, 6-1) had its chances to pull off a second straight fourth-quarter comeback victory. Jonathan Nichols, who had missed only one of 24 field-goal attempts coming in, was wide right on a 36-yarder that would have tied the game at 17 with 4:15 left. It was Nichols' second miss of the day. ``Everything was perfect,'' Nichols said. ``I thought I hit it real good. When I looked up, it faded right on me. Man, it's not a good feeling.'' The Rebels got one last chance with 2:15 left, but Manning was incomplete on three straight passes and on fourth down he was tripped pulling away from center by one of his linemen. Manning was 16-for-36 for 200 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked three times. ``They were bringing pressure and we were trying to react to it and just didn't make plays,'' said Manning, who did little to help his Heisman Trophy candidacy.
Ole Miss can still win the SEC West if LSU loses its season finale on Friday and the Rebels beat Mississippi State on Thanksgiving night. Mauck was 16-for-29 for 189 yards, but threw three interceptions that helped keep Ole Miss close while gaining only 98 yards through three quarters. 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. ``Our defense has been doing this all year,'' LSU defensive tackle Chad 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.'' Mauck found Devery Henderson deep for a 53-yard touchdown strike early in the fourth quarter that put LSU up 17-7. With the way the LSU defense was manhandling the Rebels, it seemed the Tigers were in total control _ especially when they had Ole Miss third-and-14 in its own territory on the next possession. They weren't. Manning threw high and deep down the side line to Bill Flowers, who made an over the shoulder grab for 43 yards to the LSU 20. Manning converted on third down again moments later, beating the blitz with a 10-yard flip for a touchdown to Brandon Jacobs that made it 17-14 with 10:51 left. After an LSU three-and-out, Manning started moving the Rebels again on a drive reminiscent of the one that produced the winning TD against Auburn two weeks ago. He hit Flowers for 30 yards to get the Rebels to the LSU 40 and a couple of good runs by Tremaine Turner had them at the 18. That's where the drive stalled and the Rebels brought on Nichols, who has been as valuable to the Rebels as any player not named Manning this season.
But like Manning, Nichols was not at his best on this day and LSU held on to the lead. A record-breaking crowd of 62,552 packed Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for the most anticipated game ever played in Oxford and the Rebels kept them rocking early with Johnson's touchdown. But LSU took over from there, led by the No. 1 scoring defense in the country. Twice Mauck's intercepted passes gave Ole Miss the ball in LSU territory and both times the Tigers kept the Rebels off the scoreboard. ``I thought we stepped it up a notch when they had the ball on our side of the field,'' said Corey Webster, who picked off Manning two plays after Mauck's threw his third interception in the third quarter. LSU took its first lead late in the first half when Mauck hit Michael Clayton for a 9-yard touchdown to make it 10-7. Clayton had nine catches for 83 yards, all in the first half. Vincent ran for 105 yards on 22 carries. Ole Miss had its six-game winning streak snapped, while LSU won its fifth straight.