The Ole Miss Rebels start the week as the second-favorite team for half the state of Alabama as they play host to the LSU Tigers on Saturday. The Rebels (4-6, 2-4 SEC) get a chance to wreak havoc on the college football landscape with a rare opportunity to take down the top-rated team in the nation one week after the Tigers (9-0, 5-0) proved their worthiness as the best in the land with a 46-41 road win over the then-No. 3 Crimson Tide.
If the Tigers take the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium field tired but with their chests puffed out, they have earned it. The Tigers upended their fourth top-10 opponent this season behind a Joe Burrow-led offense that piled up 559 total yards. LSU scored on six of its eight first-half drives but stalled in the third quarter, fumbling on their opening possession followed by two punts. The action got back into high gear in the fourth, as the Tigers posted 13 points to secure the win.
After a three-game conference slide — falling to Missouri (38-27), Texas A&M (24-17) and then-No. 11 Auburn (20-14) — the Rebels got back into the win column with a 41-3 destruction of visiting New Mexico State. The Ole Miss offensive onslaught was unrelenting, piling 606 yards on the Aggies defense, including 447 yards on the ground.
LSU at Ole Miss
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: LSU -21
When LSU Has the Ball
Joe Burrow has been nothing short of amazing this season in the pocket, guiding the nation’s second-best passing offense (379 ypg) and fourth-best offense overall (538). The senior leads the SEC in completion percentage (79), yards (3,198), touchdown passes (33), and QBR (202.5). When the Heisman contender drops back, he has four options on the outside to pick from, with All-SEC candidates Justin Jefferson (62 rec., 898 yards, 9 TDs) and Ja’Marr Chase (49/889/10) leading the way.
Even with Ole Miss holding NMSU to 127 passing yards, the Rebels are still one of the worst units in the nation against the pass, allowing 274 yards per contest. Six different teams have passed for 300 or more yards against Ole Miss, including a season-worst 418 yards and six touchdowns by Alabama. The Rebels either completely shut down the opposition’s run game or lets it go wild. Five times this group has been amazing, holding teams to 66 yards or fewer, but in the other five games it's allowed an average of 182 yards.
In big games this season, LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has shown up to play. Against Florida, he went for 134 yards with two scores, and against Auburn, he carried the rock a season-high 26 times for 136 yards with a trip into the end zone. In arguably his best game of the year, perhaps his life, he shined on the big stage against Alabama, carrying the ball 20 times for 103 yards with three touchdowns. LSU is averaging 159 rushing yards per game in a pass-heavy offense.
When Ole Miss Has the Ball
LSU’s rush defense is in for a long day in Oxford. The Tigers are holding opponents to 101 yards per game on average, but Ole Miss has no ordinary attack. The team has leapt up the national rankings to 14th out of 130 FBS teams in rushing. Seven times this team has gone over 200 rushing yards and twice over 400, with a 413-yard effort against Vanderbilt.
The Rebels have a four-headed attack on the ground, led by freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. In just seven games played, Plumlee has rushed for a team-high 777 yards with seven rushing scores. Hampered by an ankle injury, Scottie Phillips is still the lead tailback (125 att., 542 yards, 5 TDs) followed by Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner.
As the team has evolved into a run-first option attack, the passing game has taken a back seat. Plumlee has thrown for 666 yards with four touchdowns, but backup Matt Corral is the “pure passer” with 1,149 yards and four touchdowns. The main receiving threat for Ole Miss is Elijah Moore (55 rec., 672 yards, 4 TDs). As dominating as LSU has been at times this season, the Tigers' pass defense has vulnerable, allowing 240 yards per game, 85th nationally.
After taking all the ice in Baton Rouge to ease the bumps and bruises from a hard-fought win against Alabama, the LSU offensive line may have two missing pieces on Saturday — right tackle Austin Deculus and left tackle Saahdiq Charles. The Rebels are sneaky good at getting after the quarterback, ranking second in the SEC with 2.7 sacks per contest. With a hungry Texas A&M team waiting on Nov. 30, LSU needs to keep Burrow upright and healthy.
Burrow should have another Heisman-worthy performance against Ole Miss, but do not be surprised if LSU pushes the rushing attack once its star quarterback gets his numbers. Ole Miss is building something, but the Rebels are a very young squad with 86 percent of the offense coming from freshmen.
Prediction: LSU 45, Ole Miss 27
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.