On Saturday afternoon the Tigers and Rebels will square off inside Tiger Stadium with postseason positioning on the line.
Here are our weekly Keys to the Game from an LSU perspective with Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss coming to town.
BEN LOVE'S KEYS
Maintain control of the line of scrimmage on offense.
This goes for both the pass and the run if you're LSU. The Rebels may be minus some key personnel on the defensive side, but one area where the unit has truly excelled this season is in getting stops behind the line of scrimmage. Ole Miss ranks second in the conference in both tackles for loss (77) and sacks (29).
It will be critical for LSU's rejuvenated offensive line to make headway not only on the ground, taking advantage of the Rebels' lack of numbers, but in protecting Zach Mettenberger. C.J. Johnson leads Ole Miss with 4.5 sacks. Denzel Nkemdiche has three of his own to go with a team-high 11.5 tackles for loss. Senior Josh Dworaczyk, freshman Vadal Alexander and everyone in between have to win at the point of attack in this game for LSU.
Win decisively on special teams.
A balanced offense and aggressive defense are just two of the components LSU typically relies on to win games under Les Miles. The other is game and momentum-changing special teams play. And with Ole Miss bringing to town a group ranked among the league's worst in many special teams categories, serious opportunities await LSU in terms of stacking the deck on field position and playing the games on its terms at home.
The Rebels rank worst in the SEC in punt returns (4.9 yards per return), 10th in net punting (38.7 yards per punt) and 10th in kickoff returns (21.2 yards per return). In Brad Wing and James Hairston, LSU has the personnel to pin Ole Miss back with regularity and make this even more of an uphill climb for the visiting team. Should field goal kicker Drew Alleman keep his momentum going, this would be a really area of advantage for the Tigers.
HUNTER PANIAGUA'S KEYS
Take advantage of Ole Miss' lack of defensive depth.
Injuries have decimated the Rebels on defense this season. The coaches have had to reshuffle the starting lineup so many times that only three defensive players have started all 10 games this season. The issue has become such an epidemic that coach Hugh Freeze said earlier this week he wasn't sure if he can field the full limit of 70 players that can travel for a road game.
LSU should be able to take advantage of that with its pounding run game. Like Florida did to them, the Tigers rushing attack should have its way with the Rebels late in the game as holes open up due to the opposition's fatigue. If LSU finds itself in a position to control the clock in the second half, expect a healthy dose of Jeremy Hill and Spencer Ware as the Tigers will turn to simply pounding the life out of the Rebels defense.
Handle Ole Miss' up-tempo offense.
With Freeze came a new offensive system based heavily on an up-tempo style. Ole Miss has run an average of 72 plays a game this season, totaling 90 a week ago against Vanderbilt. The Rebels try to keep opponents off-balance and take advantage of tiring legs.
But LSU has been preparing for a fast-paced offense since the spring of 2011. In preparation for Oregon last year, LSU implanted an up-tempo period into almost every practice to help condition the team. That has made the Tigers aware of how to handle fast-paced offenses, and with LSU's reliance on rotations on defense, don't expect LSU to have much trouble handling the Rebels.
AUSTIN COOPER'S KEYS
Get Pressure on Bo Wallace.
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace has shown in recent weeks that he can be a weapon for the Rebels under center. The 6-4 204-pound sophomore has thrown for 2,239 yards with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, good enough for sixth among SEC quarterbacks. Wallace is also coming off of a loss to Vanderbilt in which he threw for 403 yards and a touchdown. In order for the LSU defense to contain Wallace, they will have to pressure him early and often.
In last week's game against Mississippi State, it took the LSU defense three quarters to start effectively pressuring quarterback Tyler Russell, and he enjoyed fairly good success up until that point. LSU must make it a priority this week to get defensive pressure on Wallace early in the game to set the tone and keep him out of rhythm. If LSU can get good performances from their defensive backs, it will allow John Chavis more freedom to dial up blitzes that Wallace may not be ready for. The bottom line is that Ole Miss threw for 400 yards against Vanderbilt while not breaking the century mark in rushing as a team. The stops will come in the running game for the LSU defense, but pressure must be applied to Wallace early on to prevent their offense from finding a groove.
Provide an effective running game.
LSU went into its matchup against Mississippi State last week looking to run the football and wear the opposing defense down. Last week LSU ran 38 times for 119 yards and one touchdown. If the LSU passing game had not found a rhythm, it could have been a long night for the Tiger offense. This week, finding a running game early in the game is even more important. Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze said this week that he is very concerned about the lack of depth on his team heading into this weekend. He feels the Ole Miss season has seen its share of problems caused by a lack of depth, such as games slipping away from the Rebels late.
As long as LSU can get the running game going early, they can wear down the Rebel defense and it will definitely open up the passing game. If LSU can have a balanced attack in the game, Ole Miss will be extremely run down by game's end. In order to do that the Tigers have to average more than 3.1 yards per carry, as they did last week.
Keys to the Game: Ole Miss
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