REPORT CARD: LSU vs. Ole Miss

OXFORD, Miss. - In his first year at LSU, Les Miles has certainly made things exciting.

Exciting, first and foremost, that LSU is in the thick of the national championship race heading into the final regular season weekend of the season. The Tigers are one win away from making it back to the SEC Championship Game for the third time in five seasons and possibly the program's third league title in as many trips to Atlanta.

 

While the season looks to end on an exciting note, Miles and the Tigers have provided plenty of excitement getting to this point. The Tigers have beaten Florida, Alabama and Auburn all in the same season for the first time – ever!

 

Not only did LSU beat these three SEC powerhouses, the Tigers did so in exciting fashion.

 

Three-point wins over the Tide and Tigers and a four-point thriller with the Gators have LSU in position to face SEC Eastern Division champion Georgia in the SEC title game and possibly a shot at a return trip to the national championship game – albeit with some help.

 

While the trio of victories over the big three had plenty of thrills, chills and spills, Miles and the Tigers registered several other tremors on the cardiac-meter. A last-second come-from-behind win on the road at Arizona State got the season started. Then, it was the gut-wrenching 30-27 overtime loss to lowly Tennessee.

 

A trip to Vanderbilt was a bit dicey that is until a fourth quarter explosion. Even a matchup with I-AA Appalachian State was interesting as LSU prevailed 24-0.

 

Fans and experts alike debated al length about how talented these Tigers are and how explosive they could be if ever they could put all the pieces together on the same field in the same 60-minute time span.

 

Debate no longer.

 

LSU pieced together its most complete (and dominating) game of the season systematically dismantling Ole Miss 40-7 Saturday in Oxford. The 33-point defeat was the worst home loss for the Rebels in 56 years dating back to a 47-7 loss to Kentucky in 1949.

 

The Tigers executed with lethal precision in all aspects of the game and finally showed the superiority of an enforcer in a game. For the first time since beating Mississippi State in mid September did Miles' team put away an opponent (sorry, North Texas and Appalachian State don't count) thoroughly dominating on base sides of the ball.

 

People talk about the LSU-Ole Miss rivalry being outdated and somewhat obsolete due to the fact the Rebels have had limited success on the gridiron over the past two decades. But examining the numbers coming into the game, LSU and Ole Miss had split the last eight meetings 4-4 and the Tigers held an 8-7 advantage over the past 15 years.

 

Sure LSU had won the last three meetings coming into Saturday's game, but did so by a combined seven points winning 14-13 in 2002, 17-14 in 2003 and 27-24 a year ago.

Nick Saban dominated Ole Miss winning four of five meetings with the Rebels in his five years in Baton Rouge, but never did the current Miami Dolphins head man ever register such a convincing victory over what is LSU's most spirited rivalry.

 

 

The Offense:

 

It took a little while to get the Tiger offense jumpstarted, but when LSU got rolling, it operated like a runaway freight train.

 

Ole Miss could do very little to stop LSU's offensive machine.

 

The Tigers racked up 381 yards of total offense, including 178 yards on the ground.

 

Joseph Addai showed little signs of a gimpy ankle as he slashed and dashed through the Rebel defense earning 70 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. Justin Vincent spelled the senior tailback and collected 54 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown as well.

 

The Tigers' offensive punished an outmanned Ole Miss front seven opening gaping holes in the Rebel defense. One ageing Mississippi sportswriter commented in the press box Saturday, "my goodness, if I could run, I could pick up 10 yards through that hole."

 

While the Tigers ground out gobs of yardage with a punishing rushing attack, JaMarcus Russell was the brightest star for LSU on offense. The 6-6, 260-pound sophomore signal caller completed 13 of 22 passes including a pair of touchdowns. Russell did misfire a couple of times and did throw an interception, but he played lots of poise and swagger and effectively led the LSU offense up and down the field.

 

Plus, Russell showed some nifty moves running the ball and lowered a punishing shoulder a time or two.

 

"Slide," Miles joked afterwards Saturday. "Slide, we don't like the contact."

 

But Russell chose otherwise as if he actually thrived on the physical play of the game.

Craig Davis hauled in his first touchdown pass of the year with a second quarter scoring grab making an athletic leaping catch on a lofted pass from Russell. Early Doucet was on the receiving end of Russell's other scoring strike.

 

Matt Flynn came off the bench and complete 2 of 4 passes for 61 yards in the fourth quarter. But the first of those two completions was a 55-yard touchdown pass, perfectly thrown to a streaking Bennie Brazell.

 

The offense was effective and operated smoothly with little resistance from the Rebels. However, two turnovers, including a fumble by Vincent as LSU was driving for a would-be first quarter touchdown, makes this grade lower than it should be.

 

Grade: A-

 

 

The Defense:

 

Where do you begin?

 

Coming into the game, everyone except a few Ole Miss fans knew just how bad the Rebels offense really is.

 

Walking through the Grove prior to Saturday's game, a conversation between two Ole Miss fans went something like this:

 

"I am going to take a shot every time the rebels score a touchdown," one Ole Miss fan said while waving a flask in the air.

 

The other fan responds, "well you are going to be one sober (insert expletive)."

There was very little celebration, of any sorts, of the Ole Miss offense on Saturday. LSU's defense outclassed the Rebels stuffing everything Ole Miss threw its way.

 

The Rebels rushed 22 times in the game for seven yards in all, plus a negative-20 yard clip on the ground in the first half. Ole Miss' leading rusher, Larry Kendrick, ran 12 times for a whopping seven yards, 0.7 yards per carry.

 

The Ole Miss offense was so bad that coach Ed Orgeron fired offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone in the aftermath. (It is being speculated former Saints' quarterbacks Bobby Hebert or John Fourcade will succeed Mazzone.)

 

Quarterback Ethan Flatt started the game for Ole Miss and was largely ineffective completing 9 of 15 passes for 49 yards with an interception. Flatt stumbled backwards (a la Eli Manning) while taking a snap from his own one yard line. He was sacked in the end zone for a safety, which triggered Orgeron to call on former starter Michael Spurlock.

 

The beleaguered Spurlock did lead Ole Miss on its only scoring drive, a 13-play, 86-yard march against LSU's third string defense, but in the end he completed just 11 of 23 passes for 119 yards with an interception.

 

Ole Miss was a sickly 2 of 14 on third down conversions and managed just three first downs in the first half, two of which came on penalty by LSU.

 

With the dominating effort, the Tigers moved into the top 10 nationally in rushing (8), pass efficiency (4), total (7) and scoring defense (4).

 

Simply dominating.

 

Grade: A+

 

 

Special teams:

 

In a game like this, special teams sometimes get lost in the shuffle due to the lopsided score.

 

It is pretty obvious no one is ever going to give Skyler Green a chance to return a punt. Green need-not worry about his legs getting tired from a long kick return, maybe more about his right arm wearing out by waving it in the air so often.

 

Green returned four punts for 32 yards Saturday pushing him over 1,000 yards in punt yards in his career. His longest return was 16 yards.

 

Chris Jackson nailed a 48-yard field goal in the third quarter (that would have been nice last week at Alabama) and punted three times for a 32.7 yards average (two were pooch punts.) Still LSU remains No. 2 in the nation in net punting at 39.78 and the Tigers kickoff coverage stuffed Ole Miss repeatedly inside the 20.

 

Grade: A

 

 

Coaching:

 

With such a dominating effort, you can't help but give major kudos to Miles and his staff.

 

Bo Pelini's defensive game plan was overpowering and Jimbo Fisher's offensive attack was well balance and was executed well.

 

Les Miles won his ninth game as LSU's head coach and eighth in a row since the September loss to Tennessee. Miles shoots to become the third LSU coach in history to log double-digit victories in a season.

 

Miles has beaten Alabama, Auburn and Florida all in the same season for the first time ever and went 5-0 in road games, including the road-home game at Arizona State.

 

Grade: A


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