Ole Miss defense understands the challenge of slowing down LSU’s Fournette
Two weeks ago, No. 22 Ole Miss (7-3, 4-2) struggled defensively in an overtime loss to Arkansas, giving up 442 yards through the air to quarterback Brandon Allen. Now the Rebels’ defensive unit has to find a way to make the LSU Tigers a one-dimensional football team and stop Heisman hopeful running back Leonard Fournette.
Slowing down LSU’s Fournette
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze paid attention to how Alabama and Arkansas’ defensive lines were able to contain Fournette, the nation’s leading rusher entering Saturday’s game. He and his staff have looked at game films from both contests to see what things the Rebels can do to have the same success against the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Louisiana product.
Against the Crimson Tide, Fournette had 31 rushing yards and one touchdown on 19 carries. Against the Razorbacks, he rushed for 91 yards and a score on 19 carry attempts. What worked best for both teams was the ability to contain Fournette at the line of scrimmage.
With its powerful defensive front, Alabama had the best success against Fournette, allowing him to average only 1.6 yards per carry.
“You are playing against one of the best backs, probably, in the history of the SEC,” Freeze said of Fournette. “It is a huge challenge. You have to gang tackle. You have to run to the football. He is one of the best players that will ever come through this conference. That says a lot. So it is a great challenge.”
Ole Miss’ Hilton and Elston understand the challenge facing the Rebels
Two of the Rebels’ most reliable defensive players, Mike Hilton and Trae Elston, understand the challenge that awaits them Saturday afternoon (2:30 p.m. CT, CBS). Hilton recalled last season’s matchup in Baton Rouge, where Fournette rushed for 113 yards on 23 carries against an Ole Miss defense that allowed 97.1 rushing yards per game heading into Death Valley.
Hilton also remembered how difficult it was to tackle Fournette, who leads the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards (1,474)—and how drained the defense was due to the Rebels’ lack of depth on defense a year ago.
“It was a 10-7 game last year going into the fourth quarter and we were drained a little bit,” said Hilton, who’s one of 19 seniors who will celebrate his final playing days inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday. “We didn’t have as much depth as we do this year. So, we feel like the depth will help us in the long run and hopefully it will turnout our way.”
Despite the loss from last season, Elston felt the defense played pretty well, keeping the score in reach and forcing Anthony Jennings to throw two interceptions. But it the Rebels’ offense wasn’t able to capitalize on the Tigers’ four turnovers and missed field goal.
Like Hilton, Elston believes the depth and experience of this year’s team will help Ole Miss overcome last season’s close defeat and put the Rebels in position to prevail over No.15 LSU (7-2, 4-2).
“We just have to tackle pretty good,” said Elston, who’s tied with South Carolina’s linebacker Skai Moore and Georgia’s safety Dominick Sanders in the SEC for interceptions (4). “That’s what we struggled with this year and we have given up big plays. Last year, we didn’t give up big plays and we tackled very well.”
Without a doubt, Hilton and Elston will do all they can to close out their careers at Vaught-Hemingway in true Landshark fashion.
Feature image credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk