Last season the LSU defense was one of the best in school history, and Ole Miss’ offense was one of the worst in any school’s history. The Rebels couldn’t settle on a quarterback, and LSU feasted on a squad that had flat out quit on Houston Nutt. This version of the Ole Miss offense is much improved, and the effort level is miles ahead of last season’s pace. Part of the offensive success is due to Hugh Freeze, but another portion is thanks to new quarterback Bo Wallace. It a fun offense capable of putting up some points. The Tiger defense wasn’t great last week, but it made the plays it had to. I don’t think anyone enters the week too concerned with the Tiger defense.
LSU Defensive Line vs. Ole Miss Offensive Line
As I anticipated, Mississippi State was totally shut down on the ground last week. LSU dominated the point of attack and forced State to the air. Now, the pass rush was not very good until it had to be late. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo exploded around the ends for a pair of late sacks, and LSU put the game away. What I like about LSU’s front four is the balance. All four guys have between 26 and 29 tackles, and all of them have five or more tackles for loss. We know the strengths of each player, and they work together to form a fantastic front. It’s important to acknowledge Lavar Edwards and Chancey Aghayere in their final game in Tiger Stadium. Both guys have been contributors for literally four seasons. That’s not all that common in defensive linemen. I think Bennie Logan, Montgomery and Mingo will exit stage right after the season, too, but those guys get their due.
Ole Miss has done a poor job protecting the passer this year. Rebel quarterbacks have gone down 29 times in 10 games. Those are drive killers.The good news for the Rebels is that they’ve had continuity up front. The same five guys have come to play every week this year, a rarity in this league. Emmanuel McCray is the left tackle. He’s got good size, but his feet can cause him some trouble. In his first year starting, there have been serious ups and downs. Aaron Morris is really good at left guard. He’s 6-foot-5 and 330 lbs., and he can move. He’s the best player on the Rebel front. Junior Evan Swindall has started 19 games at center in his career. He’s one of the better centers in the league. Senior right guard A.J. Hawkins is a shorter lineman, at 6-foot-1, but he’s played all three interior spots and understands where to be. Pierce Burton is the right tackle. He’s a tall, lean JUCO transfer with really long arms. This group has its flaws, but it hasn’t held the Rebel offense back much.
LSU starts four guys across the front that will play in the NFL. None of these Rebels are a sure bet to play there with Morris being the best of the bunch. I do not think McCray can handle Montgomery over there. He’s going to need some help. Burton needs to get his hands on Mingo early if he’s going to have a chance. He’s got the frame to do it, but Mingo is the superior player. The interior is a good battle. Ole Miss has some talent and experience in there to match up with LSU. I think LSU still takes over the line of scrimmage early and dominates late. Wallace may be running for his life at times. Alabama and Texas each got him five times. The good news for Ole Miss is that they will not try to run right at this group. They’ll try to get to the perimeter. This is a mismatch in the home team’s favor. That bodes well for the Tigers’ fortune in this game.
LSU Linebackers vs. Ole Miss Running Backs
Kevin Minter now has 90 tackles on the season. He’s played his way into the draft discussion which isn’t totally a surprise after an awesome spring. He’s become the middle linebacker LSU has lacked since Kelvin Sheppard left, and it’s been a huge help to the Tiger defense. Lamin Barrow may be the most improved player on the roster. He’s got 70 stops already, and it’s his combination of speed and technique that have allowed him to have so much success. Luke Muncie may not be back this year. That means the young kids are going to have to hold it down. That has fallen on Lamar Louis as of now. As we’ve talked about, Louis is still very much a work in progress. He’s struggled out in space where I thought his speed would make him a huge asset. He had a pair of hurries in the South Carolina game but hasn’t been a major factor in any of the others. Being flanked by such experience is a huge help to Louis who will only get better. I almost wonder why Deion Jones isn’t playing more.
Jeff Scott is the poor man’s Dexter McCluster. Run DMc II was a terror on the SEC in Oxford, and Scott has some of those abilities. He’s slippery in space and has big time speed. He’s topped 100 yards three times this year and ranks eighth in the league in yards per game. Scott is active in the passing game as well, hauling in 18 balls for nine yards per catch. Senior and converted quarterback Randall Mackey carries the ball at times, as does I’Tavius Mathers. Both guys are a little bigger than Scott, but it’s still mostly speed.
Look for a good amount of shotgun offense from the Rebels which will mean three wide outs and a nickel defense for LSU. That means two linebackers, namely Minter and Barrow. Because of Minter’s instincts, he’s able to play sideline to sideline in the nickel, and that’s never been a problem for Barrow. Scott will get the ball on the read-option plenty of times, and it’ll be up to these linebackers to diagnose the play and go make a tackle. Scott will probably slip free a time or two for some first down yardage, but I expect Barrow and Minter to make 7-11 tackles a piece and put a virtual bottle on this attack. Misdirection will come into play here, and so will the screen game. I still like what this LSU linebacking unit has become. Expect more of the same.
LSU Secondary vs. Ole MissQuarterback and Wide Receivers
There is reason to complain about some of the gaudy stats the secondary has given up at times. Some of the coverage is a little soft, and it can drive you nuts at times. But any way you slice it LSU ranks atop the league in pass defense and is tied with Alabama for the interception lead. There are some serious athletes back there, and they generally make the plays when they need to. The Craig Loston-Ronald Martin safety rotation has been. Both guys have made some plays. Loston is still lost in one-on-one coverage. Teams are going to look to match him up with wide receivers if they can. Eric Reid has really picked it up the last few weeks. I think he needed that off week to tell you the truth. He’s been a bad man the last couple of games. From watching the tape, I think Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins are the next dynamic duo of corners at DBU.
Bo Wallace has surprised me. I didn’t think Hugh Freeze’s Arkansas St. JUCO transfer would be the answer in the SEC. Now beating Arkansas and Auburn doesn’t exactly equal “The Answer”, but he’s made a big difference. He’s sixth in the conference in total offense and has made some special plays outside the pocket this year. At 6-foot-4 and 205 lbs., he’s got good size and strength. He’ll make mistakes, having tossed 10 picks, but that happens when you have a suspect offensive line and are playing from behind in half of your games. Dontae Moncrief will earn some hardware before he leaves Oxford. He’s a 6-foot-3 speed receiver with solid hands and some wiggle after the catch. Wallace loves to find Moncrief both around the line of scrimmage and down the field. Mackey is another target. He’s just a really good athlete who the Rebels get in space. Ja-Mes Logan is the other option. He had eight grabs for 160 yards against Vanderbilt. At 6-foot-3, he’s another vertical threat, something that isn’t exactly lacking at Ole Miss.
This is Ole Miss’ chance to stay in the game. These wide receivers are plenty good enough to get open, and Wallace can throw the ball. LSU will need to play better than it did a week ago against another solid passing attack in State. Simon and Collins give LSU excellent size on the outside against Moncrief and Logan. That’s something the Rebels will not have seen thus far. It’s important for LSU to jam these receivers and disallow a clean release down the field. LSU has not played much press this year, so to expect it may not be too rational. I just think allowing rangy kids with good speed to get a head of steam is a risk. Wallace will extend plays and force the coverage to stick. LSU did a fantastic job of locking up when Johnny Manziel broke the pocket a month ago. Same drill. Look for Loston. I'm not sure he can stay with any of these wide outs by himself. I think Wallace throws for 240+ in this game, but the turnovers could be an issue.
As it always does, this SEC matchup will be won at the line of scrimmage. LSU wins there. Wallace will get the ball out of his hand very quickly, but that will result in a bunch of short gains and not much else. Scott will make a few Tigers miss, but not nearly enough. That will force Ole Miss to the air more and more. Mingo and Montgomery will get to Wallace, and that may force some ill-advised throws. Though he hasn’t made the key errors lately, athletically, Texas, Georgia and Alabama are the three most comparable defenses Wallace has seen to LSU. He threw seven interceptions in those games. I do think the Rebels score a little bit because I honestly like their offense and think they play hard. They won’t score nearly enough, though.
Prediction: LSU 40, Ole Miss 17