LSU’s defenders will receive a respite from physical, run-heavy offenses this weekend.
What’ll they face instead? Only the Southeastern Conference’s leading passer and one of the most high-powered offenses in the country.
A tall task awaits the No. 17 Tigers when they take on No. 25 Ole Miss at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Oxford, Mississippi. Junior quarterback Chad Kelly engineers the Rebels’ offense, which leads the conference with 40.7 points per game and 526.6 yards per game. “He’s aggressive. He takes chances,” senior safety Jalen Mills said. “In these league, that’s the kind of guy you need at the quarterback position.”
Kelly has thrown for 3,224 yards and 23 touchdowns, numbers that rank among the 12 best quarterbacks nationally. He has piled up an additional 272 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground while leading Ole Miss (7-3, 4-2 SEC) to 43 points or more in half of its games.
“He’s going to let it go. He’s a very good passer and really runs the football pretty well, as well,” LSU coach Les Miles said Wednesday. “Our defense is going to be challenged. We recognize that and are looking forward to it, to be honest.”
LSU (7-2, 4-2 SEC) was reportedly interested in Kelly when he played at East Mississippi Community College in 2014 but never offered him a scholarship. Kelly, nephew of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, originally enrolled at Clemson but was booted from the team due to detrimental conduct.
Kelly’s favorite target is junior Laquon Treadwell, the SEC’s only 1,000-yard receiver. The duo poses a threat to the Tigers, who have recently surrendered big plays in bunches.
“The quarterback that they have and their receiving corps, they’re really in sync,” Mills said. “Us as a defense, whether we’re in man, zone, anything, we really have to know who the threats are and really key on that quarterback and his receivers.”
D. Nkemdiche out
Ole Miss will be without its leading tackler against LSU. Senior outside linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche was hospitalized for an undisclosed reason earlier this week and will not play Saturday, according to a report from The Associated Press.
Nkemdiche, the older brother of defensive tackle and former No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche, has accumulated 53 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss while starting nine of the Rebels’ 10 games.
Elston responds to Miles
Miles has a 3-2 record against Ole Miss in Oxford, but he doesn’t find Vaught-Hemingway Stadium to be all that intimidating.
“Honestly, I haven’t felt like that was a difficult atmosphere,” the coach said Wednesday at his post-practice press conference.
During his radio show a few hours later, Miles referred to Oxford as “a very heightened environment and venue” and said his players enjoy going there. Miles’ last trip to Vaught-Hemingway in 2013 ended with the No. 6 Tigers losing 27-24 to a shorthanded and struggling Rebels team.
Ole Miss senior defensive back Trae Elston issued a response to Miles’ comments Wednesdays night with a tweet saying, “I’m giving the Ole Miss fans a challenge lets show them.”
What a rush
Deion Jones couldn’t help but be a little jealous of Trey Quinn. Just minutes after LSU had knocked off previously unbeaten and third-ranked Ole Miss last season, Quinn, a true freshman receiver, was crowd-surfing over the swarm of students that rushed the field.
Jones, on the other hand, was caught in the tumultuous celebration.
“I was in the middle of it, and then I made my way into the locker room,” the senior linebacker said with a smile. “I wasn’t like Trey Quinn, though. Wish I was.”
LSU-Ole Miss series
LSU holds the edge in the rivalry against Ole Miss, renamed the Magnolia Bowl in 2008, with a 59-40-4 series record. Miles is 7-3 against the Rebels, but the Tigers are underdogs in back-to-back games against Ole Miss for the first time since 1999-2000.
Follow Marcus on Twitter at @RodrigueAdv.