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LSU vs. Ole Miss: What To Watch For

Tigers head to Oxford looking to put another game behind them - this time, a big win.

Mississippi v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

A different week, a different challenge.

Kind of.

Three weeks ago, it was all about drowning out the noise. Putting the catastrophic loss to Troy behind you. Flushing it, and moving on to an intense road game with Florida.

Swap it all out, and replace a potential season-defining loss with an epic, historic comeback over Auburn, but the song remains the same. Drown out the praise. Forget about the last game, and move on to the next one.

The Tigers will be solid favorites in this game, and they certainly have the talent to win comfortably. But we know, from what we’ve seen, that this particular LSU team cannot afford to take anyone lightly. Previous experiences should also tell us the perils of playing a good quarterback on the road — and Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson has been red hot this season, leading the conference in passing yards, touchdowns and efficiency.

The Ole Miss program has had a...dramatic year? Okay, probably more comedic, but nonetheless, they never sleep on this rivalry. Interim head coach Matt Luke isn’t likely to live out his own Ed Orgeron/Dream Job scenario, but you can bet he’ll have his team coming out of the locker room at Vaught-Hemingway breathing fire and ready to create its own signature moment. And in front of a well-lubricated crowd.

LSU has a chance to turn a corner on their season. Ole Miss has a chance to snag something memorable out of a pointless one. We’ll see which team is ready to make it happen.

What To Watch For On Saturday

You Again?

There’s some remarkable symmetry between this game and last year’s matchup, right down to an interim coach’s involvement and an ailing star running back looking to get back in gear before the stretch run of the season.

Mostly, Ole Miss looks a helluva lot like last year’s team, at least by profile. A high-octane passing offense led by an athletic quarterback and a bevy of stud receivers, trying to cover for a sieve of a defense.

The Rebels lead the SEC in passing — by a significant margin — touchdowns and efficiency, but allow 37 points per game and an average of nearly 300 yards on the ground in their three SEC games to date. Even in last week’s 57-35 win over Vanderbilt, the Commodores’ Ralph Webb had 163 yard and two touchdowns, his first 100-plus-yard performance of the season.

Seth’s breakdown from yesterday outlines some of the Rebels’ concepts, but largely new OC Phil Longo hasn’t veered too much from the framework of what Hugh Freeze had this team running. I think you could call it a more structured approach, with a lot of option routes and more typical Air Raid-type concepts. But it’s still very reliant on run-pass options, and gives Patterson a lot of freedom to really run and gun. And it helps that he has one of, if not the, best group of receivers in the country. Ole Miss has lost first-round picks in Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram, and hasn’t missed a beat at all really. A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, DaMarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson will all play professional football one day, and will likely be very high draft choices themselves.

The running game is pretty meh, and you can notice that Longo likes to have an extra blocker on the field when he does actually run it with Jordan Wilkins. This offensive line struggles to really push people around, so the run is much more of a side piece that comes into play if a defense completely gives up to play the pass. It helps that, Patterson can make things happen with his feet as well, although he’s more likely to try and extend to find an open receiver.

Dave Aranda’s gameplan will be interesting — zone coverage is still something this secondary struggles with a bit, but as Seth pointed out, it was effective for both Cal and Alabama against this offense. The Golden Bears were able to flood the zone and use their linebackers to muscle the Rebel receivers over the middle, and really make Patterson be precise with his throws. Alabama was able to mix up their looks and confuse him a bit.

Aranda’s knowledge of attacking protections, and more importantly, how that translates to the LSU linebackers, will be very important to keep a hand in Patterson’s face without selling out on a heavy blitz too often. LSU’s corners are playing some great football right now, but it still pays to manage risk here.

If Ole Miss doesn’t mix up their protections beyond a straight slide, watch out for Arden Key to start looking more like himself. Aranda will take a matchup of him on a running back all day, every day.

Body Blows

LSU’s running game has been enough to get the job done at times, but it’s yet to really hit it’s stride. At least for the running backs. The jet sweep is still a key play, but by it’s nature it’s going to be relatively feast or famine for the receivers.

As this Advocate piece detailed, LSU averaged just 2.6 yards per carry against Auburn when running between the tackles. Some of that can be explained by Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams’ respective injury issues, and some of it can be explained by an offensive line group that remains both inconsistent in play and in personnel. But the bottom line is, if this running game can’t really get cranked up this week, it may not happen this season.

Ole Miss is just dreadful against the run this year. They’ve allowed an average of 293 yards per game to conference opponents this season, and more than six yards per carry. They allow an average of 5.49 yards on first down, meaning this should be an excellent opportunity to keep the passing game on schedule and in favorable down and distance for Danny Etling. And the pass defense is all of 12th in the SEC in efficiency, so with some help, Etling should have a chance to be pretty effective.

In short, run the damn ball.

For one, No. 5 is still the biggest talent on this offense, and if he truly is starting to heal up, it would be huge to re-establish him as one of the league’s best players as we hit the season’s final month. For another, running the ball and controlling the line of scrimmage is also the best way to limit the liability of Patterson and the Ole Miss passing game.

Ole Miss has changed coordinators, but they still run a modified 4-2-5 style of defense, with a bandit safety in the box to try and control the run with numbers. The jet sweep action should help push that eighth man wide often enough to clear some bodies out of the middle. And remember — the gamble of that undersized front is that you’ll get frustrated with short gains before they get tired of 200-pound safeties tackling 220-pound running backs. That’s a formula that has always favored LSU, and should again on Saturday.