1. It's been a chaotic year in Oxford, but Ole Miss managed to break a three-game skid last week against Vandy. Best guess as to the mindset of this team right now?
Well, they don’t seem to have given up. I certainly thought back-to-back destruction by Alabama and Auburn would have forced that, especially given a ridiculous loss to Cal, but it seems the team is still in high spirits. We’ll see how things look against a team other than Vandy, but the offense looked excited. It was certainly fun, from the standpoint of a fan, to see the Rebels decimate a P5 team (even if it was a bad one). Vanderbilt beat Ole Miss last year. We can’t forget that.
2. I know there was some big expectations for Phil Longo to bring some major changes to the Rebel offense, but to date it looks pretty similar to last year with Shea Patterson winging it all over the yard. Have their been any improvements that y'all have noticed?
So one improvement is that Longo seems relatively content to let the passing offense determine games. While there are still a few bone-headed rushing calls when everyone in the stadium recognizes it’s a run that won’t work, the playcalling at least puts the ball in the hands of the receiver matchups Ole Miss almost always wins.
But they made a big deal all summer about how great it was that Phil Longo’s playbook only has 28 plays in it. It lets the receivers make plays in space blah blah blah. Well it also lets defenses quickly figure out what 28 things they need to focus on defending and then play the law of averages and defend against those as best they can. When plays work, they’re great with receivers getting quite open. When they don’t, there’s a safety who has read the play and is standing right where a well-covered receiver is trying to run. I’m not a fan of plays with binary outcomes (works for significant gain or doesn’t work at all). It seems to me, someone who has barely even played any football much less coached it, that a more robust series of plays might make it harder for defenses to anticipate what’s coming.
3. Defensively Ole Miss...well, I'd say points for effort but the other team scores those as well. What's been the problem here?
Well, everything. In theory the secondary can be pretty good at stopping the pass, so I’d say that’s not the biggest concern.
Stopping the run, on the other hand, yikes. This team has made average backs look great and great backs look like Heisman favorites. The linebackers are awful at filling gaps without getting blocked into oblivion. The line isn’t committed to playing sound football, and whether open field tackles will happen is a coin flip heavily weighted in the opponent’s favor. All of this is a recipe for disaster, especially against teams like Alabama, Auburn, and…. LSU. If this team can’t stop the run, why bother passing?
4. Will we see the typical hair-on-fire intensity for this game, given that it's LSU, or are things a bit more subdued in Oxford between the Freeze situation and pending NCAA doom?
Suffice it to say everyone wants to beat Ed Orgeron. He won, like, two SEC games in three years at Ole Miss. I know the program has its own difficulties, but…. come on. Fans remember the laughing stock Orgeron made Ole Miss, and that doesn’t sit well. Now that he’s saying all he was thinking about while he was at Ole Miss was coaching for LSU…. that’s even more motivating.
One thing I expected to see from this team that really hasn’t come to fruition: chaos. With offensive talent capable of passing on anyone and no real reason to play it safe given no chance for a bowl, I can’t understand why they’re not taking bigger risks to try to get upsets. If Matt Luke wants the permanent job, he should go crazy, encourage going for it on fourth downs, etc. If he musters wins against LSU, Arkansas, State, etc., he’s got it. While the Rebels may be favored against some of their remaining opponents, why not roll the dice in games they’re expected to lose? Flea flickers, onside kicks, etc.
5. LSU's had to kind of patch together an offense around a struggling line -- if you were the LSU staff, how would you attack this Ole Miss team?
Run right at the linebackers and dare them to tackle Derrius Guice. Then do the same thing with Darrel Williams. You say the offensive line isn’t good, but that’s okay for you because the front seven generally tries the “tackle-by-bumping-into” maneuver.
6. Any guess as to how this all might play out on Saturday?
LSU by 10? I will say that this is a tough game for me to call and one I could see being a blowout really in either direction. For the Rebels, the aforementioned passing offense could simply be enough to get things out of hand, and the defense could capitalize on some turnovers or Orgeron getting cute. For the Tigers, they could find easy running room and put Ole Miss in a hole it desperately tries to pull out of, leading to turnovers and trouble.
I think it’s more likely to stay within two scores, and I’d say LSU should be favored given I think the Tigers will run with ease.