Ole Miss (5-5, 2-4 SEC) at No. 8 LSU (8-2, 4-2 SEC)
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m.
Tiger Stadium, AKA "Death Valley"
SETTING THE STAGE…
Ole Miss has at times played well, even better than expected, at Death Valley and the Rebels will need to have one of those days Saturday to have any hope of prevailing.
On paper, this one looks like it has the ingredients to be a lop-sided affair. That won’t keep Ole Miss from showing up ready to play the Tigers. And these Rebels should be considered a dangerous opponent by LSU. They just look like a bunch that is going to beat someone they’re not supposed to this season, and I don’t think that has happened yet.
Of course, a win in Baton Rouge would give Ole Miss bowl eligibility with one game to spare.
For LSU, it’s all about avoiding the upset against an opponent that has been known to pull off a shocker every now and then against the Tigers. Barring any outside help, LSU won’t be representing the SEC West in Atlanta, so the Tigers are playing for bowl position, national rankings, pride and second place in the division.
Expect Tiger Stadium to be loud and rocking as always. It’s the home finale and senior day in Baton Rouge.
The Ole Miss defense will encounter an LSU offense that seems to have found itself recently thanks in larger part to the play of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who has thrown for more than 250 yards in each of his last two games.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger
"He seems to be insistent that he performs well, and that's always the mark of a pretty good quarterback," LSU head coach Les Miles said of Mettenberger. "There needs to be the impatience with yourself and the want to get everything right. He has that."
Under Mettenberger, the LSU offense has completed 43-of-65 passes for 571 yards and three touchdowns without an interception over the last two games in a loss to Alabama and a win over Mississippi State.
On Saturday, Mettenberger will throw against a youthful and banged up Ole Miss secondary that has been beaten with the big play at crucial times over its last two games against Georgia and Vanderbilt.
On the season, Mettenberger has completed 155 of 263 passes for 1,990 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’ll come into Saturday having thrown 110 consecutive passes without an interception. Ole Miss has yielded 18 passing touchdowns to opponents this season which is the third most in the SEC.
The LSU offense hasn’t turned the football over since an Oct. 13 game against South Carolina. That’s 46 offensive possessions in a row without a fumble or interception.
Don’t expect the Tigers to be all Zach Mettenberger on Saturday. LSU has perhaps the deepest stable of talented backs in the SEC and the Tigers aim for balance.
RUN UNDER THE GUN…
I don’t think there’s any doubt that Hugh Freeze has a masterful offensive mind. One of the biggest questions on Saturday will be whether or not he can pull a rabbit to get an Ole Miss rushing attack, that at one point was tops in the SEC, back on track against one of the nation’s best defensive fronts.
Which Jeff Scott will Rebel fans see on Saturday?
The Rebels’ running game has been anemic over the last three games, failing to eclipse the 100-yard mark in tests against Arkansas, Georgia and Vanderbilt in succession. The edge was non-existent last week against Vanderbilt as Jeff Scott ran for a couple of hundred scurrying sideline-to-sideline but found very little positive daylight finishing with less than 50 yards on 24 carries.
A telling stat: Scott has averaged exactly two yards per carry since the Arkansas game.
If Freeze can somehow get the Rebels back to running North and South, it will certainly help Bo Wallace’s ability to throw the football. It will have to be done against perhaps the best defensive front the Rebels have faced all season.
Bo Wallace is coming off one of the best performances of his young Ole Miss career, having thrown for 403 yards and a touchdown last week. Maybe more importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over against a Vanderbilt secondary that came into the game rated second in the SEC against the pass.
This week, he’ll test the SEC’s No. 1 pass defense. LSU is allowing just 165.7 yards per game through the air. The Tigers have intercepted opposing quarterbacks 14 times and sacked them 26 times.
Wallace ranks fifth in the SEC in total yards, averaging 250.8 per game. That’s good enough for 49th in the nation. He has thrown for over 2,200 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
LSU will bring the pressure and attempt to force the sophomore signal caller into bad decisions. Pass protection along the Ole Miss offensive line will be paramount.
NKEMDICHE THE ELDER…
While there is much talk in Rebel Nation regarding the nation’s No. 1 high school football player in Robert Nkemdiche and when he will pull the trigger on an announcement for Ole Miss, his older brother is earning headlines and earning respect in his own right.
Ole Miss redshirt freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche looks certain to be named to the SEC’s all-freshman team but he’s not such a longshot for capturing freshman All-American honors, either. Already establishing a reputation for making big plays, Denzel Nkemdiche is averaging 1.15 tackles for loss per game, which ranks second in the nation for freshmen and first inside the SEC.
ONE TO WATCH…LSU
Keep an eye on LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, whose job will be to meet and greet Bo Wallace as much as he can Saturday afternoon. He’ll be easy to spot at 6-5 and 260 pounds with a motor that’s always set to full throttle.
Montgomery has six sacks, 11 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fimble recovery and two pass defenses on the season.
ONE TO WATCH…OLE MISS
In order for Ole Miss to win Saturday, Donte Moncrief is going to have to be seen streaking down the field with the ball in his hand a few times.
On the season Moncrief has put up solid numbers. He has caught 47 balls for 614 yards and five touchdowns. He even had eight catches against Vanderbilt last week.
Faced with getting double teamed, the Rebels still must get him open and get him the football on Saturday. They tried it last week with a razzle-dazzle pass from Randall Mackey. He was open but the ball was overthrown.
It hasn’t been in vogue in weeks now, but FEED MONCRIEF. Somehow, some way.
OH YEAH, IT’S A BOWL GAME…
Lest we forget, Saturday’s Ole Miss/LSU matchup has been dubbed the Magnolia Bowl since way back in 2008. This is the rubber game of the Magnolia Bowl series, as each team has won it twice since its inception. Of course, it’s one of the oldest rivalries in the land, dating back to 1894.
THE LAST WORD…
David once took down Goliath and upsets aren’t uncommon in college football. The Rebels have those facts on their side heading into Baton Rouge.
I still think this Ole Miss football team is one that will beat someone it’s not supposed to this season. Again, I don’t think that’s happened, yet. It almost did against Texas A&M.
Ole Miss has a history of giving the Tigers a tussle when things aren’t supposed to be close. I think we’ll see a little bit of that on Saturday…for a little while.
Not looking ahead here, but I think the 2012 Egg Bowl is going to be for much more than bragging rights.
THE SCORE: LSU 33, Ole Miss 20