PREVIEW: LSU offense vs. Ole Miss defense

TSD's Hunter Paniagua previews the matchups when LSU has the ball on Saturday. Who plays the biggest roles for Hugh Freeze's Ole Miss defense?

Projected Starting Lineups

LSU Offense
QB Zach Mettenberger, HB Jeremy Hill, FB J.C. Copeland, TE Chase Clement, WR-Z Odell Beckham, WR-X Kadron Boone, LT Josh Dworaczyk, LG La'el Collins, C P.J. Lonergan, RG Trai Turner, RT Vadal Alexander

Ole Miss Defense (4-2-5)
DE C.J. Johnson, DT Byron Bennett, NT Isaac Gross, DE Cameron Whigham, MLB Mike Marry, STINGER Denzel Nkemdiche, HUSKIE Dehendret Collins, FCB Senquez Golson, ROVER Trae Elston, FS Cody Prewitt, BCB Charles Sawyer

The resurgence of the LSU offense has created expectations for itself that rival those of the preseason. Fans are no longer surprised by a successful passing attack — they're expecting it. The new normal is 200-plus yards through the air with no turnovers, and regression would certainly be met with some ill will.

Based on the numbers, LSU should find a favorable foe in Ole Miss, which ranks near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference in most significant defensive categories. The Rebels are tenth in total defense, allowing 386 yards per game. And a recent case of the injury bug has hit Oxford hard. Coach Hugh Freeze said earlier in the week that some defenders will be required to play every snap, certainly a difficult task against an LSU offense that can rely heavily on its pounding run game.


The brunt of the offensive expectations falls squarely on the shoulders of Zach Mettenberger. Last week, he became the first LSU quarterback to throw for more than 200 yards in consecutive games since Jarrett Lee in 2008. Expect the criticism to return if he takes a step back against an Ole Miss secondary that ranks eleventh in the SEC with 243.5 passing yards allowed per game. The Rebels have surrendered 18 touchdowns in the air, compared to 10 interceptions.

Ole Miss lacks experience in the secondary, with no senior listed on the depth chart, though Cody Prewitt and Charles Sawyer have started all 10 games this season. The four starters have combined for 13 pass breakups with three interceptions. Starting freshman strong safety Trae Elston is questionable for the game, but Freeze said he will try to play this week.


At linebacker, redshirt freshman Denzel Nkemdiche has been a bright spot for Ole Miss, showing he's more than just the older brother of 2013's No. 1 overall prospect. Nkemdiche is tied for fifth in the SEC with 11.5 tackles for a loss this season and leads the Rebels in that category along with forced fumbles and interceptions.

Ole Miss still ranks eighth in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 142.5 yards per game. The Rebels will likely see a healthy dose of the run game as LSU will likely attempt to wear down the Ole Miss defense. The LSU rushing attack didn't look so dominant last week against Mississippi State. Six different backs carried the ball for LSU last week, with none eclipsing the 50-yard mark.


The one statistical category Ole Miss can hang its hat on is reaching the quarterback. The Rebels rank second in the SEC with 30 sacks this season. Sophomore C.J. Johnson leads the team with 4.5 sacks and has recorded at least one in each of his last three games. True freshman nose tackle Isaac Gross has emerged in the middle, ranking second on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss and third with 2.5 sacks.

The LSU offensive line played better last week after allowing five sacks in consecutive games against Texas A&M and Alabama.

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