Ole Miss takes 7-0 record into Death Valley
The No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels take a 7-0 (4-0 SEC) record into the hostile environment of Tiger Stadium today to face the No. 24 LSU Tigers (6-2, 2-2 SEC).
The Rebels are a 3.5-point favorite going into the game, a position in which not many LSU opponents find themselves. But given Les Miles’ 45-4 record at night in Tiger Stadium, it’s no wonder he and his team are rarely considered underdogs.
This year’s Rebels, however, are bringing with them the most tenacious defense in the nation, and they’ll count on it to slow down the LSU offense—a group that has been getting its sea legs as of late while on a two-game winning streak.
This game marks the first time many of the younger Rebels on the team will play in Death Valley, but Coach Freeze noted in in the SEC Football Coaches Weekly Media Teleconference Wednesday, that he and his staff will make sure to “educate the new guys on the history of this game,” as well as the importance of retaining the Magnolia Bowl Trophy.
With a No. 3 ranking, a shot at the SEC West title, and possibly inclusion in the four-team College Football Playoff, it is doubtful Freeze will have to work too hard to explain what’s on the line in this game.
LSU Tigers to Watch:
After going back and forth on who the starting quarterback would be, Coach Miles has settled on sophomore Anthony Jennings. Jennings is 64 of 128 (50 percent completion percentage) for 1048 passing yards on the season. He has 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions on the season.
In order for Jennings and LSU to have a shot at scoring more than the 10.6 ppg the Land Shark Defense is allowing (first in the nation), they will have to establish their running game. To do this, they will turn to their talented freshman Leonard Fournette.
The 6’1, 230-lb Fournette has 544 yards on 108 attempts this season for a 5.0 yards per carry average. His longest run has been 40 yards, and he’s scored 7 touchdowns.
Of the LSU running game, Coach Freeze said: “The last two weeks, they’ve gotten back to doing their bread and butter. That’s physical, control of the clock. They’re able to run the football with the outstanding backs that they have.”
The LSU running game may depend, in large part, on the success of WR Travin Dural. He has deep threat ability, averaging 25.6 yards per reception. He is second in the nation with 8 catches of at least 30 yards. Freshman Malachi Dupre could be a factor, also, as he has 11 receptions for 257 yards this season—a 23.4 yard per reception average.
If LSU can’t get Dural or Dupre the ball, they might have a hard time keeping the Rebels from packing nine in the box every play. And if that’s the case, Jennings may find himself harassed, hurried and sacked all night, much like Tennessee’s QB Justin Worley found himself last Saturday in Oxford.
Coach Freeze acknowledged defensive coordinator Dave Wommack will have a job on his hands trying to contain the young Tigers: “You have to have a plan to stop the run. They’re going to make you stop that. Then, of course, they’ll try to take their shots when they can with their quality athletes on the outside.”
The Rebel defense will be a formidable foe for the Tigers. They lead the league in scoring defense (10.6 ppg), are second in total defense (290.6 ypg), second in run defense (97.1 ypg), and are fourth in pass defense (193.4 ypg.) They also have notched 15 interceptions on the season, which is tied for the most in the FBS.
In the end, however, it will come down to the Rebel defense doing what it has done all season—making plays.
“Our kids will have to win their share just like every game,” Freeze said. “It comes down to one-on-one battles at times. There are critical plays that can happen in a game, and that can change momentum.”
Behind the strength of the No. 1 ranked defense in the nation, the Rebels will take their fight deep into the heart of Death Valley…and prevail.
Rebel Walk Prediction: Ole Miss 35-10.