When the LSU Tigers and Ole Miss Rebels kick off on Saturday in Oxford, more than bragging rights are at stake for the 2017 edition of the Magnolia Bowl. Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2 SEC) has found its footing, breaking a three-game losing streak with a convincing win over Vanderbilt (57-35) last week and eyeing a strong finish to the regular season. On the other side of the field, LSU (5-2, 2-1) has buried an embarrassing 24-21 home loss to Troy by upending Florida on the road and No. 10 Auburn in Death Valley in back-to-back outings. It appears that the Tigers are ready to reclaim their accustomed spot as a feared opponent.
LSU used a strong second half in its come-from-behind win in Baton Rouge against hated rival Auburn. The Tigers spotted Auburn a 20-point lead with 3:37 left until halftime before closing the deficit to 23-14 at intermission. LSU’s defense tightened up in the second half, and career-best performances from receiver/punt returner DJ Chark and field goal kicker Connor Culp helped give the Tigers a 27–23 win.
The schedule has not been kind to Ole Miss this season. After wins over South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin, consecutive road trips to Cal, Alabama, and Auburn put the Rebels below .500. Playing at home was the winning ingredient against Vanderbilt, as sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson sliced the Commodores defense for 351 yards with four touchdowns. The Rebels are catching the Tigers on an upswing, but the timing could also be favorable for Ole Miss, as the game comes on the heels of LSU's emotional win over Auburn and with a showdown looming for the Tigers against Alabama.
LSU at Ole Miss
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 7:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ole Miss +6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Shea Patterson vs. LSU pass defense
Patterson (above, right) is emerging as the SEC’s best quarterback, statistically speaking. He leads the conference with 2,143 passing yards and a 66 percent completion rate, and is tied at 17 touchdowns tossed with Drew Lock (Missouri). Patterson has burned every team he's faced, other than Alabama, for at least 346 yards and two touchdowns. The Tide held him to 165 yards, zero touchdowns, and two picks.
LSU leads the SEC in passes defended with 35, with Andraez Williams picking off three of four team interceptions. The Tigers have also racked up 23 sacks. This unit is only allowing 171 pass yards per game, ranked No. 14 out of 129 FBS teams. The Tigers can get after it, but they have not faced a quarterback like Patterson yet. The Rebels have the ninth-best passing attack among FBS programs. Don’t expect Patterson to back down.
2. LSU rushing attack vs. Ole Miss rush defense
LSU is getting healthier in the backfield and up front, which bodes well for this game. The Tigers are expected to get tackle Toby Weathersby back this week, which should help banged-up tailbacks Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams find better running lanes against Ole Miss.
The Rebels are among the worst in the nation at stopping the run, allowing 239 yards per game. Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb ripped off 163 yards and two scores on 23 carries against the Rebels. Against Auburn's much more formidable run defense, LSU rushed for 157 yards, led by Guice’s 20-carry, 78-yard performance and two effective receiver sweeps by Russell Gage for 71 yards.
3. LSU QB Danny Etling and Ole Miss RB Jordan Wilkins
Two supporting players will have key roles – Etling for LSU and Wilkins for Ole Miss. Wilkins is effective when used sparingly as a runner but is not a workhorse between the tackles. For the season, he has 382 rushing yards on 71 carries with three touchdowns. Etling is a game manager who has thrown for 1,252 yards with seven touchdowns and only one pick. The Tigers are a little suspect against the run, allowing 145 yards a game. Ole Miss is middle of the road against the pass, allowing 211 yards per game.
Shea Patterson has four receivers LSU must defend — A.J. Brown, Van Jefferson, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge — making this game within the game a very exciting matchup. The super sophomore is talented enough to beat LSU with his arm if given time to throw.
If Danny Etling passes for 200 yards, chalk up a win for LSU. The Tigers should have an easy go on the ground against Ole Miss, meaning any Etling contributions should be the difference.
The bye week before facing Alabama on Nov. 4 should keep LSU from looking ahead against Ole Miss.
The last five meetings have been won by the home team. This year, LSU breaks the streak.
Prediction: LSU 33, Ole Miss 21
— 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.