OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - Top-ranked LSU has quite the puzzle to sort out.
The Tigers faced the Southeastern Conference's last-place team Saturday, and though it should have been an easy win, it was anything but.
LSU escaped with a 41-24 victory over Mississippi, but the Tigers were left with far more questions than answers as they turn to the remaining three games in their national title chase.
For instance, how could Brent Schaeffer, the Rebels' rejected former starter, slash the nation's top defense for 302 total yards in less than three quarters?
``He was a little surprising,'' LSU coach Les Miles said.
And how was it that one of the nation's most giving defenses was able to hold LSU to its fourth-lowest offensive output of the season? The Tigers needed two late short-field touchdowns after failed onside kicks to put the Rebels away.
``They weren't letting us throw it deep,'' LSU quarterback Matt Flynn said. ``... We had to take a bunch of underneath stuff. In a game like that, you can't make any big mistakes. We really held onto the ball, and when we needed big plays towards the end, they were there.''
No. 1 teams aren't supposed to sneak by weaker opponents, though. Teams with national title hopes are supposed to roll over them without mercy.
``I think that we played OK,'' running back Jacob Hester said. ``We definitely didn't do our best. We've got to come out next week and do more.''
More will be required. The Tigers face Arkansas and arguably the nation's best running back, Darren McFadden, next week. Then they will play either Tennessee or Georgia in the SEC championship game on Dec. 1. All three teams are flawed, but dangerous. And they're talented and perceptive enough on offense to capitalize on the clues Ole Miss left for them like a trail of bread crumbs.
Amid all this self-doubt is a quickly evolving distraction, as well. Miles' name is being mentioned in a possible coaching change at Michigan. Miles is a former Wolverines player rumored as a candidate to replace Lloyd Carr, who is expected to announce his retirement Monday.
The most immediate concern for the Tigers, however, is the mess Schaeffer made of their defense. The Rebels finished with 466 total yards, 91 more than the Tigers have allowed any opponent this season. Coming into the game they were No. 1 in the nation in total defense, allowing 268 yards per game.
Ole Miss coaches put Schaeffer into the game in the second quarter after starter Seth Adams struggled. Rather than stick with its conventional offense, the Rebels mutated into a spread offense to take advantage of Schaeffer's athleticism.
Schaeffer scored on a 38-yard run and threw a 33-yard touchdown pass. He repeatedly drove Ole Miss into LSU territory and had one possible score stopped when coaches put Adams back in the lineup on the goal line and he threw an interception.
Wide receiver Shay Hodge said the Rebels found the going easy against the Tigers in the spread.
``Today was a fun day for our offense,'' Hodge said. ``We got to go four wide and run and gun.''
Schaeffer's play also exposed another LSU flaw - a lack of preparedness.
``He is something we're going to have to work on,'' Miles said. ``I can promise you this: We weren't looking for him. That's partially my fault. He wasn't in our gameplan.''

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