After LSU’s uninspired 31-14 loss to Arkansas, everyone’s saying Pick 6 doesn’t have anything to play for anymore.
But we’re here as always, ready to talk about the Tigers’ trip to Ole Miss this Saturday. Ben Garrett, editor of the Scout.com affiliate Ole Miss Spirit, kindly joined us for this week’s edition of Pick 6 and answered all our questions about the Rebels.
You can follow him on Twitter @SpiritBen and read his work here.
1. LSU and Ole Miss have taken similar trajectories this year, climbing into the top five before a few gut-check losses brought them back down to earth. Where’s the Rebels’ collective confidence at right now, especially after that wacky overtime loss to Arkansas two weeks ago?
There’s no denying the loss to Arkansas was deflating. Despite ugly beats at Florida and Memphis, Ole Miss still controlled its own destiny in the SEC West. Had the Rebels won out, no matter what happened around them, they would have reached the SEC championship game for the first time in school history.
But they didn’t. Instead, they’ll need to beat rivals LSU and Mississippi State and hope Auburn pulls off an upset of Alabama to get to Atlanta. The loss, as you might expect, was a shot to the gut. And it’s the way the Rebels lost, too, that hung around for so long. Tight end Evan Engram said it took days for the team to truly recover from the overtime, one-point loss.
Fortunately for the Rebels, they were off last week. The bye offered a much-needed reprieve after 10-straight weeks of games, and Ole Miss has proven time and again it can bounce back after disappointment. Just this year Ole Miss lost at Memphis only to follow with wins against Texas A&M and Auburn. It’s back to business as usual.
2. Speaking of gut-check losses, the Tigers handed Ole Miss one in Tiger Stadium last year. Have the players been talking about that game at all the last two weeks?
I could go on, but the point is while no one has forgotten last season’s forgettable night in Baton Rouge, there isn’t a lot of talk about revenge or anything. Really, as far as motivation, Ole Miss can point to the over 600 yards of offense and 53 points given up to Arkansas last week. And now the Rebels get Leonard Fournette.
3. QB Chad Kelly is the SEC’s leading passer and engineer of the No. 12 scoring offense in the nation. How much success can he have against LSU’s secondary, which has been good for a handful of coverage busts every weekend?
Kelly doesn’t get enough credit for just how good he’s been. His numbers speak for themselves; he’s on pace to break nearly all of the single-season passing records in Ole Miss history. But what is sometimes forgotten, or what goes unnoticed, is how he’s become an unquestioned team leader and the catalyst for Ole Miss offensively. Laquon Treadwell may be the headliner for the Rebel offense, but Kelly is its most valuable player. He all but carried the team in the loss to Arkansas, totaling 478 yards of offense, including 24 of 34 passing for 368 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s going to get his.
The question is how much help will he receive from his supporting cast? The Ole Miss running game has been sporadic at best. The offensive line has been better with Laremy Tunsil, but it’s still not great and can be beat by good fronts. In the end, it will come down to Kelly. But he’s proven up to the task so far. He’s had no choice.
4. The Robert Nkemdiche-led defensive line is notorious for being an athletic bunch. Given the Tigers’ recent woes in both run blocking and pass protection, can the Rebels win the battle at the line of scrimmage against a traditionally overpowering offensive line?
The problem for the Ole Miss defensive front is, despite its athleticism, it lacks in overall production. All of college football knows the name Robert Nkemdiche, undeniably one of the nation’s top overall players and a sure-fire top-10 pick in the NFL Draft in the spring. Marquis Haynes has been solid, though he disappears at times. He’s recorded a team-leading 8.5 sacks, good for third in the SEC, and seventh-most in one season in school history.
But strong-side end Fadol Brown hasn’t been the breakout force as was hoped in his junior season, and defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton is a solid, if unspectacular, nose guard. Redshirt freshman Breeland Speaks is coming, with breakout games against Memphis and Texas A&M, and the defensive line has shown flashes of dominance at times.
But which group shows up? Nkemdiche had all of one tackle in the loss to Arkansas, and the defense by-and-large could do nothing to slow the Razorbacks down. But if it’s Ole Miss’ defense, and line, that harassed Kyle Allen and Texas A&M? Well, Ole Miss will be in it until the end.
5. On top of being athletic, Ole Miss’ defense has been stout in allowing 125.7 rushing yards per game. Leonard Fournette has struggled to find running room in the last two games, so what are the chances the Rebels can bottle him up as well?
6. The Tigers aren’t well-equipped to hang around in shootouts, but that’s what they might face in Oxford. Do you think that’s the kind of game coach Hugh Freeze wants to play with LSU’s run-first offense?
If Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze had it his way, the Rebels would go tempo early and jump on LSU with a couple of scores. From there, he’d attempt to slow down and control the game. Arkansas did its damage by completely controlling the game, with a 41:03 time of possession to 18:57 for Ole Miss. The Razorbacks scored on seven of their eight second-half possessions. Really, there’s no answer for Ole Miss defensively. The Rebels just have to be better. Ole Miss is going to score. The question is whether they’ll have to score each time they have the ball.
MORE LSU FOOTBALL COVERAGE
- LSU coach Les Miles feels no pressure, but ‘imperative’ for Tigers to ‘get back on track’
- Sticky Situations: LSU’s struggles on early downs result in frequent third-and-longs
- LSU’s Leonard Fournette named Doak Walker Award semifinalist, ‘player to watch’ for Walter Camp Award