Something will have to give on Saturday.
LSU lives and dies by the run game. The Tigers have run it 68 percent of their plays this season, the most unbalanced offense in the SEC. LSU has been much improved though these last couple weeks, racking up 322 rushing yards against Kentucky.
Ole Miss states its reputation on defending the run. The Rebels rank sixth in the nation, allowing just 97.1 rushing yards per game. They’re coming off a particularly dominant performance a week ago, limiting Tennessee to a whopping zero rushing yards (41 if you disregard the seven sacks).
So what are the players’ expectations for a game that pits strength vs. strength?
“It’s going to be fun,” said right guard Ethan Pocic. “It’ll be a dogfight.”
This game could very well come down to who wins the battle in the trenches.
LSU’s confident it has the ability to move the ball against even the best defensive fronts. The Tigers have looked the part recently as the offensive line has started to resemble the dominant unit most everyone expected it to be before the season.
But LSU’s run-pass ratio leads to some legitimate concern. While the passing game still struggles to find consistency, opposing defenses can hone in on the rushing attack, stacking the box with eight and nine bodies.
Les Miles recognizes the predictability of his current offense won’t get the job done against a team like Ole Miss.
“We have to keep our opponents, all of which, off balance with the run and the pass,” Miles said. “We're a team that really wants to be balanced…We will be throwing the football, especially in this game and as we go forward. We have to have balance to make sure that the run and the pass both go down the field.”
That’s a tricky dilemma though. How do you find that balance when the passing game has mostly been unable to establish itself as a legitimate threat?
Terrence Magee said the run game will have to shoulder that responsibility. That means going right at the heart of Ole Miss’ defensive strength.
“Our mentality is to always establish the run game, no matter who we’re playing,” Magee said. “If you don’t establish the run, then you can’t open up the pass. In order for us to open up our entire offense, we’re going to have to be able to run the ball against those guys.”
That probably isn’t what fans want to hear. Frustration has built all season on LSU’s insistence on running the ball to start a series. The Tigers have run the ball 75.8 percent of the time on first down, and you can bet Ole Miss knows that statistic.
So when you can’t fool them with scheme, beating them with confidence is the next best weapon.
And LSU has an abundance of that.
“We’re definitely going to have our hardhats on this week at practice, preparing for them and getting ready for them,” said center Elliott Porter. “We’re going to do what we do best and get a W.”
LSU, Ole Miss pits strength vs. strength
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