I’m calling it. The corner has been turned. This LSU offense is nothing like the one that showed up in Auburn and Gainesville. Torching Dee Milliner, Robert Lester, Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay and Corey Broomfield is no joke. Those guys have NFL futures, and LSU slung it all over the field on ‘em. The running game wasn’t great last week, but that’s because of the numbers game which LSU exploited in the secondary. Ole Miss’ defense is, um, not awesome. These Rebels do have to win one of the last two to reach a bowl game. If they do that, Hugh Freeze would get my vote for SEC Coach of the Year. He’s got his work cut out for him this week. So does his defense.
LSU Offensive Line vs. Ole Miss Defensive Line
Zach Mettenberger could have had a cup of coffee and a newspaper in the backfield last week. He had forever. I think tipping the proverbial cap to Josh Dworaczyk is in order this week. He’s a guard with knees held together by scotch tape, and he’s become a pretty damn good left tackle in the SEC. Facing Corey Lemonier, Jadaveon Clowney, Demontre Moore and that Alabama scheme is tough. He’s held his own of late, and he deserves a ton of credit for that. On the other side, Vadal Alexander got smoked on that strip-sack last week, but he did the least he could do and fell on the ball. It was a speed rush, and he’s still learning to deal with that. In the running game, forget it. The kid’s a monster. He and Trai Turner continue to maul the opposition on that side. It was the two Bulldog linebackers that made 28 tackles last week. Mississippi State stopped the run with numbers. P.J. Lonergan deserves a huge ovation as well. He’ll start his 26th game at center Saturday. And then there’s La’El Collins who continues to get better and better. He’ll be the best guard in the conference next year.
Remember C.J. Johnson? He chose Ole Miss at the 11th hour as a five-star linebacker, electing to play closer to home as opposed to joining LSU’s loaded 2011 class. He’s now a defenive end and a pretty good one for Ole Miss. He’s got 4.5 sacks this year. That’s a touch more than Barkevious Mingo. Johnson’s 47 tackles are a big time amount for a defensive end. He’s a playmaker. The other end is junior Cameron Whigham (6’3”, 255). He’s not much of a pass rusher, but he’s strong enough to take on blocks from big SEC tackles. The space-eater in the middle is sophomore Byron Bennett (6‘2“, 294). He’s played in 22 games in two seasons and has 20 tackles. He’s not in there to make plays. He’s in there to afford other that chance. Isaac Gross is the other tackle, and he’s going to be a star. He was an Under-Armour All-American last season at South Panola High School, and he’s stepped right in to contribute. Defensive tackles don’t often do that. He’s 6-foot-1 and 254 lbs., and has made 7.5 tackles for loss and registered two and a half sacks. He’s still a young one, but man does he have some talent.
Johnson and Gross are really solid players, but that’s just about it for Ole Miss up front. The Rebels allow 143 yards per game on the ground. The Aggies and Longhorns ran for 290 and 350 respectively. I will say that only allowing 125 on the ground to Alabama is pretty strong. LSU has meshed as an offensive front. The real change has come in pass protection. I don’t think Ole Miss will get pressure on Mettenberger. I also think over time LSU imposes its will on the ground. Watch those two young kids for Ole Miss. They’re really good. Oh, and so are LSU's young ones.
LSU Running Backs vs. Ole Miss Linebackers
Rough one for LSU on the ground Saturday night, huh? Jeremy Hill was still the feature guy. It was nice to see Spencer Ware bust a 12 yarder up the gut, and Kenny Hilliard did the same. J.C. Copeland plunged in another score, and he cooled his jets on the extracurricular activity. The real change of pace was Russell Shepard who got eight carries. I’m probably the only person in America who thinks that’s acceptable, but I think the guy helps. I wish they’d have gone back to him versus Alabama after the 19 yard burst. This, in my opinion, is an effort to get Shepard some highlight tape for NFL teams. That’s fine, too. I don’t think you’ve seen the last of Shepard on the ground.
We’ll begin a tour of the Rebel linebacking corps with Denzel Hardname, I mean Nkemdiche. This little guy is a pretty good football player. At 5-foot-11 and a shade over 200 lbs., he’s got great speed and has made 11.5 tackles for loss. He’s tough to block, and he makes the tackle when he arrives on site. Mike Marry is the Mike backer, and he’s a big one at 6-foot-3 and 256 lbs. Marry runs well for 256 lbs., but he plays around the line of scrimmage for the most part. The incomparable Clint Moseley stuck one in his gut for a pick to ice the Auburn game. Still, don’t look for Marry to play in space too much. Senior Joel Knight is the third linebacker. He’s another small linebacker with some good speed. In nickel situations, you’ll see the other two guys in there, but Knight does play significant snaps and has made a handful of plays behind the line of scrimmage.
It’s not just his brother, Nkemdiche can play. So can the Tiger tailbacks. I like Hill to make his mark on this game, but I think the rest of the bunch shows up too. Look for Shepard to get some touches, and I don’t think Hilliard’s story has been told yet. He may have regained some of his focus, and that’s good news. This is likely Ware’s last game in Tiger Stadium. He would run hard even if it wasn’t. And how about that catch he made in the endzone before halftime last week? This is such a talented group. You be hard-pressed to find a unit I like better.
LSU Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers vs. Ole Miss Secondary
Not much I can print here you don’t already know. This is the most improved unit on the team, and I think it’s the reason LSU has survived a goal-shattering loss. The team is motivated by this newfound offensive firepower, and that newfound enthusiasm is going to carry the team to the finish line. Mettenberger is comfortable and decisive. Jarvis Landry is abusing linebackers, safeties and nickel backs in the slot, and teams are still going to sell out on the run against LSU. LSU has started to use the middle of the field and expose one-on-one coverage. Kadron Boone let a couple of catches get away in the State game, but the drops have been few and far between. Working on a really good group of corners, Odell Beckham still had four catches for 55 yards last week. The negative here is the suspension of Nic Jacobs. I liked him in the passing game lately. Chase Clement will have one or two thrown his way this week. Expect a good amount of Travis Dickson, but he’ll be in there to block most of the time.
This Rebel group has struggled all season. The No. 1 corner is Charles Sawyer, a junior from Miami. He’s about 5-foot-10 and 180 lbs. Sawyer runs well, but struggles to turn his head at times. He’s broken up six passes and picked off another. The other corner is sophomore Senquez Golson who is a phenomenal athlete. The Red Sox picked him in the sixth round last year, but he’s playing two sports at Ole Miss instead. Golson can fly, but he’s still raw. He’s also only 5-foot-9. Safety Trae Elston should ring a bell. He was in consideration for LSU before the Tigers landed Corey Thompson. Elston is physical at 6-feet and 190 lbs. He is a good tackler, especially for a freshman. And sophomore Corey Prewitt rounds out the starting secondary. Prewitt has made 67 tackles this year. He’s an aggressive safety who can play in coverage and will help against the run. His group is really young and raw. They have the ability to make big plays, but they also give them up.
It’s been awhile in this department, but: Mismatch. LSU can carve this secondary up a week before Turkey Day. Ole Miss has to find someone to cover Landry who has proven anything but a corner won’t do. Expect Landry to haul in another 5-8 balls for some big plays and some first downs. If the Rebels pay too much attention to the underneath stuff, Beckham can hurt them over the top. In terms of speed, Ole Miss can run with LSU here, but I worry about the big plays. Texas hit two touchdowns of over 45 yards through the air, and Alabama scored twice from around 20. Assignments have been an issue for Ole Miss, and this newfound confidence in the gold helmets spells trouble for this group.
Ole Miss’ defense just isn’t very good. I think LSU will go up and down the field at will unless the turnover bug returns. Mettenberger hasn’t turned it over since the South Carolina game. No so coincidentally, the playbook has opened up. Ole Miss doesn’t have the horses to hold up in the back end, and the time of possession is going to allow the running game to take over late. I like 230 through the air and 200 on the ground in a really dominating performance by LSU on Senior Day. This team is really coming together. In a playoff year, they may make some noise. That’s not the case, but it still won’t help Ole Miss.
Prediction: LSU 40, Ole Miss 17