1. Three straight losses, plus a host of serious injuries. It feels like Ole Miss could possibly be on the brink of things going off the rails here. Is that the feeling among Ole Miss fans?
Well, not really. Ole Miss fans know we'll lose to LSU, but then the schedule gets pretty easy and allows time to get people back from injury. Most of the injuries are short term. The four weeks following the LSU game are... Idaho, Bye, Arkansas, Troy. Arkansas looks terrible, and the other two are easy wins, regardless of the injury situation.
Most people expect us to be at roughly full strength by the time the Rebels take on Missouri and Mississippi State. Honestly, these injuries may have cost us the Texas A&M game, but I don't expect to be able to blame any other losses on them.
2. Speaking of those injuries, any updates to whom we might and might not see on Saturday?
Ugh... it's pretty rough. The leading tackler, Serderius Bryant, is recovering from a concussion that took him off the field in a stretcher. Star running back Jeff Scott is likely out with a deep thigh bruise. The second best defensive end on the team, Robert Nkemdiche, is out with a hamstring injury. The best end, CJ Johnson, is going to "try to go" Saturday. Another top defensive end, Carlos Thompson, is out for the game. Starting nose tackle Isaac Gross, the best pocket-collapser on the team, is severely limited, but likely to play. Starting corner Mike Hilton is also out for a secondary already lacking depth. The only viable backup safety is also likely out. It's... not good. Our only real backup QB, Barry Brunetti, is likely to play but has a shoulder injury that is hampering him.
If this game is close, be worried that somehow there's now a blueprint to beat LSU. Ole Miss has no reason to stay in this. They are likely to give several walk-ons heavy snap loads.
3. Coming off of that big recruiting class, Ole Miss is obviously playing a ton of freshmen not named Robert Nkemdiche. Who are some of the newbies LSU fans should watch out for?
So here's the bright spot for Ole Miss. The freshmen really are as good as they were expected to be. Robert Nkemdiche is maybe the five-star freshman who has had the smallest impact in games, and that's saying a lot. He has started every game and does well. He just hasn't really had a defining play yet like the other three. Laremy Tunsil stole the starting left tackle job from an incumbent fifth-year senior. He's remarkable. Laquon Treadwell has been exceptional at receiver, already making a huge difference. Tony Conner is a linebacker/safety hybrid in the defense and quickly won that starting job from its incumbent as well. He has responded with being the most reliable open-field tackler on the field and has shown much better coverage skill than most anyone expected.
Then there's Evan Engram. Engram's only other offers were from the equivalency of Marshall. He was a three-star tight end and wasn't thought to be too much. Then he showed up and led the team in receiving through the first three weeks. He has tailed off a bit in the last couple of games, but that's likely because defenses are putting effort into stopping him, something that has really helped the likes of Laquon Treadwell.
4. Ole Miss is currently under 30 points a game for the season and just 24 per SEC game. This was an offense that some thought would improve in Bo Wallace's second season. Have the injuries been the main source of these troubles, or is just something more natural with hitting the meatier part of this schedule?
The interior of the offensive line is terrible, and Bo Wallace isn't the same quarterback he was last year. That's the quick answer. Last year, we saw a gambler at quarterback who threw interceptions but also made big plays. This year, he has been incredibly conservative, resulting in just three interceptions on the year but also a lack of down-field passing. I'm not sure whether it's a playcalling thing or a Wallace thing, but that has to change.
The middle of the offensive line is terrible. Just terrible. If Ole Miss is forced to run up the middle, they can't. It's frustrating.
5. All that said, Ole Miss has consistently played LSU tough the last few years, with the notable exception of the Tigers' last trip to Oxford. How much does this game mean to the Rebels?
I'm sure it means a lot to the team. If they could figure out a way to win this game, they immediately jump back into the 9-3 regular season discussion, a three win improvement over last year. If they lose though, I'm not sure this team falls down and spirals out of control. Too many times when I've expected that to happen, they've responded well. Who would have thought Ole Miss would lead Texas A&M by seven in the fourth quarter after a shutout against Alabama and a heartbreaking loss to Auburn? They just continue getting up for games. I've never seen a team do this.
The fans always love this game, even though LSU usually wins. My mother attended LSU (and actually rode on Mike's cage) while my dad went to Ole Miss. This rivalry had a particularly interesting feel in my household growing up. I actually attended to Ole Miss home game where an LSU dropped the ball in the end zone in overtime in the late 90s. I don't really remember anyone involved, but I was there.
6. Care to offer a prediction?
LSU by 21.