So, heard any good headlines going into this LSU-Ole Miss game?
Yes yes, let's just tackle the two-ton elephant in the room. Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron, just 17 games removed from winning the national title, has been given his walking papers once this season is done with. That is set in stone. Obviously, athletic director Scott Woodward didn't want to see Orgeron pull a Les Miles and save his job for another year with a hot streak at the end of the season (LSU is 4-3 overall, 2-2 in SEC play), so they nipped it in the bud. And thus, the let's-get-the-next-Nick-Saban mentality strikes in the SEC coaching ranks again.
Now, LSU moves on to its toughest game yet this season at Ole Miss (5-1, 2-1 SEC). The Rebels are coming off an emotional, hard-fought, and anger-inducing victory at Tennessee, where head coach Lane Kiffin was making his much-ballyhooed (or rather, much-booed) return to Neyland Stadium. His team responded by hanging on for a 31-26 win, much to the consternation of the golf ball-throwing Volunteer fans.
LSU at No. 12 Ole Miss
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Ole Miss -9
When LSU Has the Ball
Obviously, the biggest question is to see where the Tigers' mindset is right now. Are the players going to play for Coach O with passion and fire? Or is this team going to be lost and rudderless with the lame-duck head coach? Look to see if the Tigers play with the same intensity that coach O tries to bring to everything. If their body language is dour after the first sign of adversity, it could make for a long day in Oxford. But if they are playing with confidence and the offense is clicking, it could be a down-to-the-wire game.
Of course, nothing in this season has any semblance of normalcy. For instance, the Tigers had 228 combined yards on the ground in their first four games this season. Last Saturday against Florida, Tyrion Davis-Price ran for a school-record 287 yards all on his own. Where in Hades was this been all season long? He's now got 58 carries in the last two games, completely changing the offensive identity of this team. Also, LSU's rushing offense went from No. 128 in the country to No. 103 in the last two weeks. Expect to see a steady diet of TDP once again as the Tigers will use the run to help ease the burden of Max Johnson and that passing attack. Oh, and another big sore thumb … Ole Miss ranks 111th in rushing defense giving up 198 yards per game. Yikes.
When Ole Miss Has the Ball
Orgeron calls Kiffin "one of the top three play-callers in the country," and in this game, he and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby will need to be just that. Diversity will be key, especially if quarterback Matt Corral is not able to go after taking some big hits at Tennessee. The Rebels' field general suffered five sacks and many other hits on scrambles against the Vols, while also throwing his first interception of the season. He ended up limping off the field with under a minute left in the game. But on the good side, he threw for 231 yards and ran for a season-high 195, continually bewildering the Volunteer defense. Now, will he be available on Saturday?
While LSU's running game is suddenly getting all kinds of gloss, it's the Rebel ground game that has been the best in the SEC, averaging 262 yards per game. Corral leads all rushers with 450 yards, but the running back corps of Henry Parrish Jr. (375 yards), Snoop Conner (271), and Jerrion Ealy (223) need to be effective on designed running plays. Ole Miss scored just seven points in the second half at Tennessee, so establishing more of a running game will help salt the clock and keep that injury-depleted Tigers defense on the field longer.
Speaking of, in case you're keeping score at home, six of the LSU defensive starters for the opener at UCLA are now gone for the year. Of course, it's not certain if the Tigers can ball hawk as efficiently as they did against the Gators (four interceptions), but if they can manage to keep the turnovers bouncing their way, that is the only way they'll have a shot at upsetting the Rebels. Remember, LSU got four oskies, and their offense didn't turn the ball over once against Florida. And yet, the Tigers still only won by one score. Of course, the other big facet of this defense is the pressure they get on opposing QBs. LSU is still in the top 10 in sacks with 21 on the season.
Given that the LSU and Ole Miss defenses rank 84th and 107th nationally, you have to figure this will be another high-scoring affair, even if there is no Corral. LSU has five straight wins over the Rebels, which is one win shy of the longest streak by either team in this series. Providing Corral is 100 percent, or something close to it, that won't reach win No. 6. If the Rebels have to go with freshman Luke Altmyer or former QB John Rhys Plumlee, that status is in question.
For the Tigers, a win here could be a season-changer for sure. But a loss here will merely extend the misery these fans feel like they've been suffering through since that January night in New Orleans two years ago. And it also ill heighten the debate of who will be the LSU coach for the next four or five years.
… Unless they beat Nick Saban, of course. Then they will have that coach stay forever.
Prediction: Ole Miss 45, LSU 27
Podcast: Previewing Week 8 + CFB Expansion + Washington State Coaching Search
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.