By Andrew Alexander
After the Tigers’ 41-7 meltdown in Auburn October 4, LSU’s season looked hopeless: the quarterback position was up in the air, the defense looked in disarray and head coach Les Miles was answering more clock management questions after the Tigers squandered a scoring opportunity heading into halftime on the Plains.
What a difference two weeks makes.
Back-to-back Southeastern Conference wins has the LSU fan base, and more importantly, the Tiger players rejuvenated for the last third of the college football season.
The Tigers welcome the third-ranked Ole Miss Rebels to town this weekend for the latest edition of the Magnolia Bowl. The No. 3 ranking is the highest for Ole Miss going into a game with LSU since 1963 when the Rebels were also ranked third.
Lee Corso and the rest of ESPN’s pregame college football television show “College GameDay” will be on hand in Baton Rouge this Saturday to preview the pregame madness that is sure to ensue on LSU’s campus.
Whether it was former LSU Heisman winner Billy Cannon’s Halloween touchdown run or Jordan Jefferson’s infamous clock management blunder in 2009, the Ole Miss-LSU rivalry is always a matchup to remember.
“There’s some great history with this rivalry,” Miles said. “We will have enthusiasm and enjoyment for preparation.”
LSU OFFENSE vs. OLE MISS DEFENSE
Remember that season when LSU threw the ball all over the place, had a 3,000-yard passer and two 1,000-yard receivers? Neither does Miles. The Tigers carried the ball 51 times for 303 yards while attempting just 15 passes against Kentucky, and for better or worse, that seems to be LSU’s game plan moving forward. Senior running back Terrence Magee tallied his best output of the season with 127 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats. Sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings continues to improve his management of the offense, sprinkling in the occasional big play through the air in between hand offs to LSU’s stable of running backs. LSU will need to bring in a perfect game plan on offense this Saturday against a stingy Ole Miss unit that leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 10.6 points a game. Led by All-American safety Cody Prewitt, the Rebels’ “landshark” defense leads the conference with 15 interceptions and is fourth with 18 sacks. Senior cornerback Senquez Golson leads the SEC with seven interceptions, four in his last three games. Freshman defense end Marquis Haynes leads the Rebels with 6.5 sacks, and let’s not forget fellow defensive linemen C.J. Johnson and Robert Nkemdiche. The Rebels’ have only allowed three rushing touchdowns all season and opponents barely average over 97 yards on the ground against them. Fear the fin.
EDGE: Ole Miss
LSU DEFENSE vs. OLE MISS OFFENSE
The Tigers’ defensive unit seems revitalized after embarrassing outings against Mississippi State and Auburn. LSU held Kentucky to 217 yards and only 71 yards on the ground. Junior defense end Danielle Hunter terrorized Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles all night with several pass deflections and hurries. Sophomore Kendell Beckwith continues to impress as the replacement for D.J. Welter at middle linebacker, and freshman safety Jamal Adams was a force to be reckoned with, both on special teams and at the nickel spot in the secondary. Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace leads a much-improved Rebel offense into Tiger Stadium this weekend. He is second in the league with 1,899 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, while his primary target Laquon Treadwell is fourth in receptions with 34. Treadwell, Vince Sanders and Cody Core have each recorded four touchdown receptions this season. Unfortunately for Wallace, he also ranks second in another less-glamorous category: the senior quarterback has been sacked 16 times. LSU must try to bottle up the Rebels’ mediocre rushing attack and force Wallace to beat the talented Tiger secondary with his arm
Special teams are all about the sophomores these days. Sophomore cornerback Tre’Davious White leads the conference in punt return yardage (228) after a big weekend that included a 67-yard punt return touchdown. Sophomore kicker Colby Delahoussaye has nailed all seven field goal attempts of 2014 and ranks second nationally in career field goal percentage (.952), hitting 20-of-21 to date. Ole Miss’s kickers Andrew Fletcher and Gary Wunderlich have connected on a combined 6-of-10 this season and the Rebels rank near the bottom of the conference in both kick and punt returns. If the game stays close, special teams could play a big role for the Tigers Saturday.
LSU is not the same team that was dominated by Mississippi State and Auburn earlier this season. The two wins against Florida and Kentucky were a refreshing change of pace, but LSU is still limited by a very one-dimensional offense. Unless the Tigers’ offensive line lives up to its preseason billing of best in the nation and Jennings channels his inner-Mettenberger, it will be a long day for the Tiger offense. Bo Wallace and the Ole Miss offense is much better than Florida’s Jeff Driskel and Kentucky’s Patrick Towles. Plus, the Rebels’ D is too strong. I say once again – Fear the fin.
Ole Miss 28, LSU 10