Oxford, MS – LSU is 10-0 for the first time since 1958, and ranked Tigers are huge favorites heading into this weekend's SEC tilt with the struggling Ole Miss Rebels.
LSU took a break from conference action to clash with Western Kentucky last weekend, and that Homecoming affair resulted in a 42-9 victory. All but one of the team's 10 wins have come by double figures, as the lone exception was the 9-6 overtime thriller over Alabama two weeks ago. Next weekend, the Tigers will take on a stellar Arkansas team in Baton Rouge, and that game may very well determine the league's West Division representative in the SEC Championship Game on December 3.
"I have been fortunate to lead a lot of quality teams onto the field," said LSU head coach Les Miles, who earned his 100th career victory last week. "That doesn't happen without great assistants, players and teams. I am just a recipient of being with some real quality people."
Prior to last week's matchup with non-conference foe Louisiana Tech, Houston Nutt was told that he would not be brought back after this season to lead Ole Miss. Considering the fact that the Rebels were facing LaTech in Oxford in front of a Homecoming crowd, it is hard to believe that the club was beaten 27-7 by such a mediocre opponent. Ole Miss is now 2-8 on the season, which includes an 0-6 mark versus SEC opposition.
"These kids are in a tough situation," said Nutt after the 20-point loss. "We put them in some bad situations. You have to score points. In our league the bottom line is you have to score points."
LSU owns a 56-39-4 series advantage over Ole Miss, which includes a 43-36 win over the Rebels last season.
Jarrett Lee has started every game this season at quarterback for LSU, so it certainly came as a surprise when Jordan Jefferson was on the field for the first play from scrimmage for the Tigers last week. Jefferson, who was expected to start the season before an off-the-field incident altered the plan, was impressive against Western Kentucky, passing for 168 yards and one touchdown with no INTs. Lee did play as well and threw a TD pass of his own.
"We kind of liked how Jefferson played in the last game (against Alabama)," said Miles when asked to explain his decision. "I felt like he had an extra comfort."
Alfred Blue was outstanding running the ball for LSU, gaining 119 yards and two touchdowns on only nine attempts. As for the receivers, Rueben Randle was the top target as usual.
LSU isn't an explosive offensive team, but the club does average 36.5 ppg despite a modest output of 369.0 total ypg. Of the 43 offensive touchdowns scored by the Tigers, 25 have been of the rushing variety. Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Blue have all posted six rushing TDs, proof of the backfield's balance. Lee has thrown for 14 TDs against only three INTs, while Jefferson has three passing scores and two rushing TDs with no picks. As for Randle, he has 38 catches for 733 yards and eight scores.
The LSU defense was dominant against Western Kentucky as expected, limiting the overmatched Hilltoppers to 226 yards and one touchdowns. In addition to surrendering a mere 2.9 yards per rushing attempt, the Tigers allowed fewer than half of WKU's passes to be completed, and the ones that did get caught resulted in fewer than nine yards on average.
There is no doubt that the strength of LSU is its defense, and that fact was reinforced when the team limited Alabama to six points on the road two weeks ago. The Tigers are permitting a low 10.7 ppg and 253.2 total ypg, and just 11 touchdowns have been allowed to opposing offenses through 10 games. There are so many standout defenders for Miles' group, including Sam Montgomery (seven sacks), Morris Claiborne (four INTs) and Tyrann Mathieu (four forced fumbles).
Facing that defense is a dismal Ole Miss offense that was shut out for the final three quarters of its game against Louisiana Tech last week. The Rebels finished with 307 yards and rushed for an average of only 3.0 yards per attempt. Also concerning is the fact that Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt combined to complete just 14-of-37 passes.
Sure, Louisiana Tech did score 27 points against Ole Miss last week, but the Rebel defense yielded only one touchdown. The Bulldogs ran back a fumble recovery and an interception for TDs to go along with two field goals. Even the lone offensive touchdown mustered by Tech came on a 37-yard drive, so Ole Miss certainly played with some pride defensively.
"All I know is that I'm going to finish strong for my football coach," said Ole Miss linebacker Serderius Bryant. "I feel like we really need the people that are going to finish and get the job done out here. We need to let Coach Nutt leave on a good note instead of a bad one."
Ole Miss is generating 18.7 ppg this season to go along with 296.8 total ypg, numbers that simply aren't good enough. The Rebels average 3.5 yards per rushing attempt and have completed fewer than 50 percent of their passes. Defensively, the club is yielding 30.2 ppg and 425.7 ypg to opponents, so last week's effort was far better than what fans have come to expect.