GAME DAY: LSU directs focus on Rebels

No. 1 Tigers have to take care of business against Ole Miss before they can start thinking about Arkansas and beyond.

OXFORD, Miss. – For decades and to so many generations, the notion of LSU and Ole Miss clashing on the football field carried a ton of meaning.


While that has faded some through the years, the last several meetings have revived the rivalry a bit.


Now with a few new variables mixed in the No. 1-ranked Tigers and Rebels tangle again and there should be no shortage of motivation for either team.


Especially LSU and especially after what transpired Friday night a few states north of here.


With perfection still their companion and a potential shot at another national championship in reach, the Tigers (10-0, 6-0 SEC) are the heavy favorites against an Ole Miss (2-8, 0-6) team playing for a lame-duck coach and trying to salvage anything it can from this season.


Kentrell Lockett and the Rebels defense have a tall task against LSU

In case that wasn’t enough to get LSU’s attention, No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State’s 37-31 double-overtime loss at Iowa State on Friday reinforced the fact that no matter what this game looks like on paper, the Tigers better show up at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with a purpose and focus for the 6 p.m. showdown.


“They’re going to give us all they’ve got,” receiver Rueben Randle said. “They always do.”


If not more.


LSU had to stage a fourth-quarter drive last season to escape with a 43-36 triumph over the Rebels at Tiger Stadium – an Ole Miss in a similar spot to today with

little to play for.


That was nothing compared to the year before, of course.


In the strangest game in recent LSU history, the Tigers somehow clawed their way back to having a chance to win late in the game with an onside kick recovery and then squandered several chances to close the deal with bad clock management and poor offensive play-calling.


“That game still hurts,” safety Brandon Taylor said. “That was a game we should’ve won.”


So is Saturday’s in an apparent mismatch like LSU hasn’t seen against an SEC West foe in a while.


The Tigers have soared to the top of the national polls and are on track for a BCS title shot with one of the best defenses in the country and an offense that has been efficient when necessary and taken full advantage of short fields provided by the defense and strong special teams play.


Ole Miss ranks 10th or worse in the SEC every major offensive and defensive category and – without a major pair of shockers Saturday and next week at Mississippi State – is headed toward its’ worst finish since going 2-7 in 1946.


In the wake of this season’s meltdown, Rebels coach Houston Nutt was informed he won’t be retained, a move that is still raw. Nutt compared to a gut punch and this week still seemed in a daze over his dismissal.

Houston Nutt will coach his final home game for Ole Miss on Saturday


“This was a shock and I didn’t expect it but you go on,” Nutt said this week.


Well, sort of.


The Rebels came out flat after Nutt was fired and lost at home to Louisiana Tech 27-7.


That came on the heels of a 30-17 loss to Kentucky. There was also a 30-7 loss to Vanderbilt.


Bad has just gotten worse as the season has unraveled.

There was no change this week as Nutt suspended starting quarterback Randall Mackey and leading rusher Jeff Scott for the LSU game for a violation of team rules.


Nutt acknowledged the difficulty of keeping played in line when their coach has been jettisoned.


“They've got to learn how to handle change, and it's tough for a lot of them,” Nutt said. “You try to teach them the best you can that life can be hard, and the lessons are tough.”


Those are hurdles the Tigers have encountered and scaled this season with little trouble.


But there is a tinge of controversy swirling with a late-season change in the pecking order at quarterback.


Jordan Jefferson is expected to get a second straight start

Jordan Jefferson got his first start of the season last week and delivered his best showing with 168 passing yards and a touchdown. Jarrett Lee entered the game in the fourth quarter and engineered LSU’s best drive of the day, an 82-yard march he capped with a 5-yard TD strike to Kadron Boone.

Most of the week was littered with a small but vocal pocket of fans questioning LSU coach Les Miles for the change after Lee guided the Tigers to an 8-0 start before struggling mightily against Alabama in a 9-6 overtime victory that Jefferson was key in.


Miles’ responded by saying Wednesday during the SEC coaches call and his radio show that he doesn’t care about other opinions and would play whichever quarterback gives LSU the best chance to win.

Jarrett Lee will likely have to take a backseat at QB for the Tigers

The two QBs have combined for 1,647 yards and 17 TDs with only three interceptions.


“We need for both Jordan and Jarrett to play and for them to play well,” Miles said. “Both players have contributed greatly to get us to this point and we need for both of them to play well down the stretch.”


Besides that minor distraction, the Tigers have dealt with suspensions and off-field problems before and during the season and endured it all with little more than a minor ripple.


Just in case Miles and his staff needed more ammunition to get LSU focused, the Tigers slept-walked through the first half against Western Kentucky last week before blowing past the Hilltoppers.


“That game showed us how important it is for us to come out ready to play against anybody we play,” Taylor said.


That’s certainly a key Saturday,

Brandon Bolden: Baton Rouge native will be the primary tailback with Jeff Scott suspended

LSU will face a backup quarterback in Ole Miss’ Zack Stoudt, and Baton Rouge native Brandon Bolden will step in to replace Scott.


The Tigers should have a chance to move the ball and their defense could dominate against the Rebels’ makeshift offense.


A blowout seems likely – the next step before LSU heads home to close the regular season against what could be a top-five ranked Arkansas team poised to spoil the Tigers’ national championship dreams.


But all LSU needs to think about was Oklahoma State’s trip to Ames, Iowa. Instead of staying on course for a chance to play the Tigers, the Cowboys season absorbed a massive blow in the loss.


That fact, and the history – long-term and recently – are a perfect recipe for getting a heavy favorite brought down to earth and ready to play.

"Ole Miss is a team that is very dangerous,” Miles said. “This is a great rivalry that dates back many years and I'm sure that we will see Ole Miss’ best effort. The key for us is that we have to play well in all three phases of the game in order to have success. Ole Miss is a quality team and it seems like every time we face them, it's a hard fought game, no matter the record or the circumstances surrounding the teams.”

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