Preview: LSU vs. Ole Miss

ole-miss-powder-blue-helmetsSo my previews and predictions for Ole Miss have been pretty good this year. You can’t deny that. I faltered a little bit with the Tennessee game prognostication but was only 10 total points off. Not too bad.

The Rebels did not falter at all with the Vols. Ole Miss held Tennessee to ZERO rushing yards, and save for an early field goal, absolutely decimated their offense. Once Ole Miss got their offense going, they never looked back, cruising to a convincing 34-3 victory. Check out some great highlights from the Ole Miss Sports Productions crew below.

But this week is a different kind of monster. The Ole Miss Rebels travel to take on LSU in Baton Rouge, at night no less. The Rebel/Tiger rivalry is one that is unpredictable, always interesting, and usually produces a pretty close game. This year should be no different. The contests from the past two years have both come down to the final minute, with the home team winning each time. Last year’s Rebel victory in Oxford was a huge upset ending with a field goal in the waning seconds to seal the deal.

Ole Miss will once again be featured in a College GameDay game, but this week, the focus will be on an LSU team that since losing to Mississippi State and Auburn, has made some improvements and defeated Florida and Kentucky. Even though the Rebels are ranked higher and are about a field goal favorite to win, the LSU team they are facing is probably a lot better than their record and ranking indicates. Les Miles is 43-3 at night in Tiger Stadium, a place that is beyond hostile for opposing teams. Since the game will be at night and LSU has looked a lot better in recent weeks, a lot of media are picking LSU to upset the Rebels this week.

Here are three factors that I think will determine the outcome of this heavyweight SEC West showdown.

1) Hugh Freeze’s Gameplan:

I think since the Rebels are rolling, there is some temptation for Freeze to try and slow things down, to not play as aggressively. It’s no secret that the Rebel defense is carrying the team and giving the offense plenty of cushion. But a team still has to score points to win a game. Coach Freeze needs to play to win at this point, not play to not to lose. Championship teams want to hit other teams in the mouth out of the gate. The Rebels need to do that this week by scoring early to take the crowd out of it and to put LSU on their heels, just like they did against A&M. If the Rebs can do that, they have a much better chance of winning.

2) A Defensive Battle:

Both Ole Miss and LSU have good offenses, but both teams’ bread and butter is defense. So who will come out on top in a  defensive slugfest? Ole Miss’ defense is more highly touted and in all reality more talented. But LSU will have the crowd helping them on defense. While Ole Miss is no stranger to big crowds, having just played at biggest SEC game of all time in College Station, the A&M defense was pretty mediocre compared to LSU. On the other hand, LSU’s offense is not as good as Ole Miss’, so that should give the Rebel D a good chance at shutting down LSU. If Ole Miss can stop Leonard Fournette and LSU’s strong run game, they should be in good shape. Just like last week against UT, if the Rebs eliminate the run, then the D-line will force Tiger QB Anthony Jennings into some bad decisions. I’ll take Ole Miss’ offense and defense over LSU’s, but the margins don’t favor the Rebs that much.

3) Can the Rebels win a close one on the road?

The Ole Miss/Alabama game was a thriller, down to the last play. But that was in Oxford. Every other game this season has been a blowout in favor of the Rebels. This game is not going to be a blowout. So will Bo Wallace be able to win a close game in Death Valley, arguably the most hostile environment in the country? I think the defense will do its job for Ole Miss. But I don’t think points are going to be easy to come by for the Rebels. That could easily frustrate Bo Wallace and lead him to force things. If he does force things and lets LSU take advantage, Ole Miss will have a mountain to overcome to pull out a win. Not to sound like everyone else when talking about Wallace, but if ever there were a moment for Good Bo to show up it’s this game. Without a solid showing from Wallace, I don’t think Ole Miss will win.

To say this game will be fun is an understatement. Nothing that happens on Saturday would surprise me. I think both teams are really good and both teams are capable of winning. This one all comes down to who wants it more. LSU has a lot to play for. They would love to spoil the Rebels’ fairytale season. But Ole Miss is still playing for a trip to Atlanta and potentially a trip to the College Football Playoff. The Rebels are locked in. Hugh Freeze understands the implications of this game on the season and this season on the program going forward. I predicted Ole Miss would win this game before the season, and I’m sticking with it. It’ll be close and ugly and nerve-wracking for both fan bases, but the Rebs will prevail.

Ole Miss 17 – LSU 13

Warner Russell covers Ole Miss Football for MemphiSport. Read his non-sports stuff over on The Wise Guise. Follow him on Twitter @uncle_warny.

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