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LSU Tigers vs. Ole Miss Game Preview and Prediction

Bo Wallace

Bo Wallace

There’s plenty at stake on Saturday night when LSU hosts Ole Miss in a critical SEC West game with national title and conference championship implications. The Rebels and Tigers enjoy a heated rivalry, with the winner on Saturday night hoisting the Magnolia Bowl trophy.

When Ole Miss and LSU play, the Tigers are usually the one in the mix to win the national title, but the script has reversed in 2014. The Rebels are ranked as one of the nation’s top teams and have one of the best wins in 2014 of any team (Alabama), while LSU is likely out of the West Division title picture with a 2-2 conference record. An elite defense leads the way for Ole Miss, and quarterback Bo Wallace has been efficient in SEC play.

LSU leads the overall series against Ole Miss by a 56-37-4 margin. The Rebels snapped a three-game losing streak to the Tigers by winning 27-24 in Oxford last year. However, this series has been dominated by LSU in recent years. The Tigers have lost only four games to Ole Miss since 2000.

Ole Miss at LSU

Kickoff: 7:15 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Ole Miss -3.5

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Three Things to Watch

1. Ole Miss’ Rush Defense

Why has LSU won two games in a row? Take a look at the rushing attack. The Tigers gashed Kentucky for 303 yards last Saturday and recorded 195 in a 30-27 win over Florida. True freshman Leonard Fournette leads the team with 544 yards and seven scores, but Kenny Hilliard (353 yards), Terrence Magee (344 yards) and Darrel Williams (249 yards) will see carries. With an inconsistent passing attack, combined with youth and inexperience at quarterback and receiver, LSU needs a big day from its running backs. Of course, that’s easier said than done against an Ole Miss defense allowing only 97.1 yards per game. The Rebels hold opponents to just 2.9 yards per carry and have allowed only three rushing scores in seven games. LSU’s offensive line was pegged as one of the best in the SEC this preseason and has played up to that standard against Kentucky and Florida. Can the Tigers replicate that production against one of the toughest defensive fronts in the nation?

2. Improvement by LSU’s Defense?

After allowing at least seven yards per play in its first two SEC games, LSU’s defense held Florida to a 5.4 yards-per-play average and limited Kentucky to 3.4. Is that a sign of things to come? Or a sign of playing mediocre teams from the East Division? The Tigers’ defense is filled with youth, and the transition on the defensive line hasn’t been easy. Running teams like Wisconsin and Mississippi State had no trouble moving the ball on LSU. However, a team with more spread tendencies (Kentucky) was unable to consistently move the ball. With all of the young talent on defense, the Tigers will improve over the course of the season. LSU leads the SEC in pass defense (156.3 ypg), but the front seven is the bigger concern. Ole Miss doesn’t have a traditional ground attack like Wisconsin or Mississippi State, but the Rebels average 6.0 yards per play.

3. The Quarterbacks

Both quarterbacks in this game have received plenty of criticism for their performances over the last two years. LSU sophomore Anthony Jennings led the Tigers to a win over Arkansas in the regular season finale last season but struggled in the bowl win over Iowa. Jennings was locked into a tight battle with Brandon Harris for the starting job in fall practice and is off to a slow start. The sophomore is completing only 50 percent of his throws and has not passed for more than 120 yards in his last four appearances. Considering Ole Miss’ ability to stop the run, Jennings has to have his best game of the year to give LSU a shot at the win. On the other sideline, Bo Wallace has experienced an up-and-down career in Oxford, but he is having a career season. The senior is completing 65.6 percent of his throws, and most importantly, has not tossed a pick in SEC play. With an elite defense, Wallace does not have to win games on his arm. Instead, Wallace can play more conservatively. As a result, the senior is off to a good start. Will that continue in a tough road environment like LSU?

Final Analysis

Winning in Baton Rouge is never easy – especially when it’s a night game. But can LSU’s offense consistently move the ball against the SEC’s best defense? The Rebels match the Tigers strength in the trenches, and the secondary has been active with 15 takeaways. Ole Miss may not post huge numbers on offense, but Wallace does just enough to keep LSU out of reach in this game. The Tigers may keep it close on the scoreboard. However, the Rebels control the overall flow and pace of the game and pull away in the second half to improve to 8-0.

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Prediction: Ole Miss 27, LSU 13