LSU's heading into enemy territory this week to take on the Fightin' Rebel Black Bears. I got in touch with Jeff Gray, who goes by Catfish Powe-boy over on SB Nation Ole Miss blog Red Cup Rebellion to get a read on the Rebels and this weekend's series. You can catch my answers to his questions over on their site.
PodKATT: It’s the question that gets asked every year for this series. How much do Ole Miss fans want to fire Mike Bianco this year?
Jeff Gray: Ah yes, the Bianco conundrum. Before the season, I think a lot of fans (myself included) had chalked this up as his last hoorah. But we're not sucking like we expected, so that's kind of thrown a wrench into things. Sure, every time a pinch hitter strikes out or he leaves a reliever in too long Bianco gets fired a few hundred times on Twitter, but by and large Rebel fans are pleasantly surprised with 2014. That being said, none of this matters if we can't get out of a regional. So it's a wait and see approach for now.
PK: Ole Miss has the 2nd highest team BA in the conference, and what looks on paper to be the 2nd most powerful offense in the league behind the crazy numbers being put up by UK. The Rebs also have the most stolen bases in the SEC. These days, nobody just swings for the fences to get runs on the board, but what style of offense would you say Ole Miss plays with?
JG: I think the best way to sum up our offense is 'aggressive.' We've really attacked opposing pitchers this year and certainly aren't shy on the base paths. A lot of that has to do with hitting coach Cliff Godwin, who of course spent some time in that capacity in Baton Rouge. The big difference between this year and last is that we're hitting the ball when we need to. We were awful with men in scoring position a season ago, and while it's flared up at times this year, we've been much, much better.
PK: I think many LSU baseball fans are familiar with guys like Anderson, Orvis, and Bousfield, but are there any newcomers for the Rebs this season to look out for?
JG: There are a lot of contributing freshmen on this team, which is really exciting moving forward. Errol Robinson has started at shortstop for us all season and he's been dynamite overall. J.B. Woodman was our big-time recruit. He's been a bit inconsistent and is still splitting time in right field, but he has scary potential. Freshmen reliever Wyatt Short (who's 5'8, if you can believe it) is arguably our best option out of the bullpen. Oh and Blake Bortles's little brother, Colby, is a freshman infielder. He doesn't really play, but it's worth a mention.
PK: Ole Miss’s weekend starting pitching rotation looks about as solid as one could ever ask for in the college game. How deep do you expect each of them to go, and who’s the big scary closer we should worry about?
JG: Starting pitching has been the biggest surprise of the season. We lost our Friday and Saturday guys from a year ago -- Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers -- but Chris Ellis and Christian Trent have really stepped up to fill the void. Both of those guys have worked long innings and have complete-game potential. Sam Smith, the Sunday starter (or Saturday this weekend, I guess), has been very consistent in that role. He doesn't have the same stamina, though, so don't expect to see him past the sixth. We also lost all-time saves leader Brett Huber, so there is no scary closer this year. It's been a bit piecemeal on the back end, but Josh Laxer has been the de facto stopper. He's been lights out for the most part, BUT he's blown a pair of big games this season, including a three-run lead in the bottom of the tenth in Starkville last week :(. It'll be very interesting to see if Bianco's trust level has changed with him this weekend.
PK: Is Hawtin Buchanan the most Ole Miss name ever? Or is it Preston Tarkington?
JG: From a name standpoint, you have to hand it to Hawtin. But the sleeper frat star on this roster is Errol Robinson. A black guy from Maryland wouldn't necessarily be your first pick to fill that role, but just listen to him. Both of his parents were Ole Miss grads and his sister was in a sorority on campus, so he's got plenty of Mississippi in him.
PK: LSU has lost 3 of the last 4 series at Swayze. What makes it such a difficult place to play?
JG: I typically don't put too much stock in home field advantage in baseball (aside from the whole batting last thing), but I think it's different in college, especially at the schools that really draw the big numbers. Baseball isn't a spectator sport in high school, and outside of a handful of SEC programs, you don't see big crowds at the college level either. Think about how intimidating it is for a guy who's never played in front of a real crowd to walk into a stadium of 8 or 9K, a good number of which are hammered drunk and have gotten their mom and sister's name off of Facebook. That obviously doesn't explain LSU's recent struggles in Oxford, seeing as how your guys are conditioned to that type of environment. SO IT MUST BE THE BEER SHOWERS!
PK: Bottom 9, 2 out, 1 man on 2nd, down 1. Who do you want at the plate?
JG: Sikes Orvis is our big home run guy, but Will Allen is the bat that drives in the runs. He's second in the conference with 40 RBIs and already has two walkoffs this season, one of which was a tenth-inning dinger to beat UCF.
PK: How do you see the weekend going?
JG: This one's really tough. You have division rivals in a nationally televised top-10 showdown, so anything could happen. I think Nola gives LSU the edge on Thursday, but Ole Miss has the advantage on Saturday. So it comes down to the Friday game. You mentioned LSU's struggles at Swayze, so that could be the determining factor. I'll say the Rebs take two of three in an extremely tight series. But I'm in no way confident about that prediction. At all. Oh, and while we love to make corn dog jokes and all, we do enjoy hosting you guys. If any of your fans happen to be making the trek to Swayze this weekend, they can shoot us a tweet @RedCupRebellion. There'll be plenty of beer and food out in right field.