Two SEC West teams on a wild roller-coaster ride during the 2020 college football season meet on Saturday when the Ole Miss Rebels head to Baton Rouge to take on the LSU Tigers. The winner will get a bump to a five-win in-conference season and can propel that momentum into an offseason of hard work fixing some issues for a resurgence in 2021.
Over the whiffs of Cajun spices and powdered sugar on beignets, the Rebels smell and opportunity for a marquee road win. Ole Miss has put together a three-game winning streak behind a relentless offense that is posting 39.8 points per game. On paper, the 4-4 season in a topsy turvy year looks promising, but the Rebels have yet to beat a team with a winning record. After a two-week unscheduled bye missing playing Texas A&M, Ole Miss is looking for a statement win.
When all appeared to be lost for LSU (4-5) in confidence along with fan and player support, the Tigers did the improbable walking out of The Swamp with a 37-34 win over then-No. 6 Florida last week. The victory snapped a two-game losing streak and brought renewed confidence in head coach Ed Orgeron. To further restore faith in the loyalist, a home win against the Rebels is a must for Coach O.
Ole Miss at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 19 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Ole Miss -2.5
When Ole Miss Has the Ball
The pairing of first-year head coach Lane Kiffin with sophomore quarterback Matt Corral has been a godsend for the Rebels. Playing in two fewer games than the conference leaders, Corral has slung the ball at a prolific rate and enters Saturday third in passing yards (2,744), touchdowns (24), and passer efficiency rating (187.3). After a two-game midseason slump against Arkansas and Auburn, Corral has averaged 436.6 passing yards and three touchdowns per game. His quickness and footspeed drive defenses crazy with the ability to escape pressure or pick up yards downfield when seeing tight coverage.
There is offensive talent everywhere around Corral, but he will be down his top two targets on Saturday as wide receiver Elijah Moore and tight end Kenny Yeboah have both decided to opt out and turn their attention to the 2021 NFL Draft. Moore put together an All-SEC season with 86 receptions for 1,193 yards and eight scores while Yeboah established himself as one of the conference's best pass-catching tight ends after recording 27 catches for 524 yards and six scores. Their absences will put more pressure on running back Jerrion Ealy and require some other targets to step up to keep this offense, which averages a robust 563.0 yards per game, humming.
Watching LSU surrender 609 yards to Florida last week has to make Kiffin smile. Although the Tigers' defensive stats were not stellar, they were able to create three turnovers and held the Gators to five successful third-down conversions in 13 tries. Another opportunistic outing is needed for LSU to keep pace on the scoreboard.
When LSU Has the Ball
The quarterback room this offseason is going to be a highly competitive one after LSU has started three different players under center, each having their own levels of success. The latest to get the nod is true freshman Max Johnson, a dual-threat who took over for fellow true freshman TJ Finley after Finley started the previous five games. Without All-SEC receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. and potential Freshman All-American tight end Arik Gilbert, Johnson completed 21 of 36 passes for 239 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Johnson's legs pushed the chains 52 yards downfield.
With LSU's top two backs, Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery Jr. (shoulder) banged up, Chris Curry had his most meaningful game of the season, rushing for 64 yards off 17 totes. The ground game rolled for 179 yards against a solid Florida unit. Two other players stepped up when needed most, receivers Kayshon Boutte and Jaray Jenkins. Boutte shinned in the new go-to role and secured five catches for 108 yards with a touchdown.
There are few positives to highlight for the Ole Miss defense. They have allowed 528.5 yards per game, gotten trampled on third downs at a 51.0 percent clip and fourth downs at a 63.4 percent rate, and have only come away with four interceptions. Ole Miss' best defense is its offense putting pressure on the opposition on the scoreboard.
LSU shocked the nation by taking down Florida in Week 15, so do they have enough gas in the tank for back-to-back wins against another explosive offense? Offensive opportunities will be there for the Tigers, but Max Johnson will need to be ready to exploit them, especially on third downs.
After missing Texas A&M due to SEC COVID-19 guidelines, is Ole Miss ready to play or feeling depleted as well? The Rebels will miss Elijah Moore and Kenny Yeboah but should have enough offensive firepower to outlast LSU.
Prediction: Ole Miss 31, LSU 28
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— 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.