There is no love-lost between LSU and Ole Miss.
The rivalry is long-standing, and it’s intense – about as heated as can be.
The disdain is so pure that LSU has a famous chant about the Rebels, and in it, the Tigers wish eternal damnation onto the program and its fans.
But in 2016, the rivalry is as hot as ever, and that’s because it’s coach Ed Orgeron’s first game battling his former team, while serving as a head coach.
The stakes will be high on Saturday night when the Tigers take on Ole Miss – a late-night kickoff that won’t begin until 8:15 p.m.
Both teams are in dire need of a win to stay in the Southeastern Conference Western Division chase. For Orgeron, the win would be his biggest yet as LSU’s coach, and it’d come against a school that employed him for three seasons from 2005-07.
After losing to Ole Miss last year, the Tigers will be ready this time around, according to Orgeron, who said the team’s had a good week of preparation to get ready.
“They better (remember last year’s loss),” Orgeron said. “If they don’t, I’m going to remind them, because I remember it. Those guys whooped our tail, and there’s going to be respect. Obviously, we’re going to play better this year. We got them at home, and I really want to use that as a motivation to remind them who we’re playing. I think they know the rivalry, and they’ll be ready to play.”
Being ready to play is something the Tigers have done often under Orgeron – especially on the offensive side of the ball.
After opening the season with an anemic offensive attack, LSU’s been tough to stop lately – a group that’s had success both rushing and passing the football.
And that group may get even better this week with the return of junior halfback Leonard Fournette, who is expected to play after missing several weeks with sprained ankles.
Orgeron said Fournette has practiced all week and is 100 percent.
Paired with Derrius Guice, Fournette and the Tigers may have some rushing success against a Rebels defense which has sometimes struggled to stop the run at times this season.
“We want to rotate our guys,” Orgeron said. “We want to keep them fresh. But it might be a possibility of putting them both in the backfield at the same time, too. I think it’s a positive that we have them there. … I think they’re both outstanding backs.”
LSU’s quarterback is suddently not too shabby, either.
In the past few weeks, Danny Etling has gotten hot – solidifying himself as a legitimate SEC starter at the position.
Last week against Southern Miss, he completed 11-of-18 passes for 276 yards and three scores.
Orgeron said the quarterback’s progression is because of his work ethic, adding that he’s a fierce competitor.
“I like his attitude towards work,” Orgeron said. “He’s in the office all the time wanting to just get better. He’s what we’re looking for in our quarterback right now.”
Ole Miss has one heck of a quarterback, too.
The Rebels are led offensively by senior quarterback Chad Kelly – a dual-threat option who is arguably the best quarterback in the entire SEC.
Kelly’s had a dynamite season so far in 2016, and has completed 133-of-213 passes for 1,849 yards, 14 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
On the ground, Kelly is also a threat, and he’s rushed 52 times for 213 yards.
But against LSU, Kelly will be facing a defense that’s among the best in the country.
The Tigers are the only team in America that hasn’t yet allowed 20 or more points in a game.
In six games, LSU has allowed just six touchdowns. The LSU defense has bent, but has rarely broken, and the team has one of the most efficient red-zone defenses in America.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said he thinks the Tigers are one of the best teams in the country, and he knows they’re better than their record.
Freeze said Orgeron has given the team life, and he knows that will add a little extra pizazz to the big game.
Freeze worked under Orgeron when he was the head coach at Ole Miss, adding that he has great respect for his foe.
“Offensively, LSU is very different right now,” Freeze said. “They are very multiple. They give you a lot of different sets and are staying balanced. … Defensively, they are what they have been. It’s a little different system with a different coordinator, but athletically, they have been the same as they have always been. … Whatever he is doing, it’s working.”
LSU offense vs. Ole Miss defense
After watching LSU struggle early in the season, I’d have bet anything that Ole Miss would have locked down the Tigers’ offense. But in the past few weeks, the Tigers have spread the field, and they’ve been awfully tough to cover. Ole Miss lost a lot of players to the NFL last season. That won’t help them on Saturday night in Death Valley.
LSU defense vs. Ole Miss offense
Advantage: Ole Miss
Look, LSU is playing unbelievably well right now defensively, but this is the same Ole Miss team that scored 43 points and got 522 yards on Alabama. The Rebels will move the ball. They’ve scored 30 or more points in every, single game this season.
Ole Miss has a better kicker than the Tigers. Gary Wunderlich is one of the top kickers in the entire SEC. But in this rivalry, LSU has always found a way to make crazy things happen in special teams. I have this strange feeling that Donte Jackson will make a play as a returnman that will change the game.
LSU 31, Ole Miss 24
Photo by Sean Gasser.