It didn’t take long for the Tiger coach to figure it out once he arrived in 2005.
“I have to admit, I had to get here to know there was some history,” Miles said Wednesday as he wrapped up his week with the media. “I was acquainted with it very quickly after I got here. And then I really understood it from the way (Ole Miss) played us. They were a good team that played a lot better against us.”
The 18th-ranked Tigers (7-3, 3-3 SEC) and Rebels (6-4, 3-3) renew their rivalry at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Tiger Stadium. LSU has won the last six meetings with Ole Miss and needs a win this weekend to stake a claim to second place in the Western Division.
The Rebels can do the same with a victory. And that’s not the only reason Ole Miss is scary.
Four Rebel losses this season have come by 19 points – 30-28 at Wake Forest, 23-17 to Vanderbilt in Oxford, 31-24 against South Carolina in Oxford and 24-20 at then second-ranked Alabama. Ole Miss stuck Florida with its only loss, 31-30 in Gainesville.
“I wouldn’t think anybody on our side will take anything for granted,” Miles said. “This is a rivalry game and there’s a lot of reasons to want it and victory is certainly reason No. 1.
“We know we need to come and play a good football game.”
A subplot of the LSU-Ole Miss game is how the outcome affects the SEC bowl pecking order.
The Cotton Bowl has identified the Tigers and Rebels as targets to fill the league’s slot – which traditionally goes to a West Division team.
That makes this weekend’s winner the apparent frontrunner to go to Dallas on Jan. 2 to take on a high-powered Big 12 Conference team – likely the odd team left out of the BCS from No. 2 Texas Tech, No. 3 Texas and No. 5 Oklahoma.
Miles was asked about the opportunity of taking the Tigers to the Cotton Bowl. LSU hasn’t been since 2002 when it lost to Texas 35-20. Miles led Oklahoma State to the game the next season where the Cowboys narrowly lost –ironically – to Ole Miss, 31-28.
“The Cotton Bowl would be great,” Miles said. “It’s a beautiful event.”
Although the Cotton seems like the most likely destination for LSU if it wins Saturday and at Arkansas on Nov. 28, heading to Florida also remains an outside possibility.
The Capital One Bowl has continued to monitor the Tigers, although Georgia is in the driver’s seat for the Jan. 1 bowl in Orlando. Should the Bulldogs stumble against Georgia Tech next week, though, and LSU win out, the Cap One board might be more interested in the Tigers.
The Outback Bowl could also be in play should South Carolina lose to Clemson next week and finish 7-5, two games worse than LSU and Georgia. If that happens, the Outback committee – which usually leans toward an East Division team – could try to broker a deal for Georgia or pick a West team for the first time since 1997.
With Houston Nutt running the show at Ole Miss, the Tiger defense figures to see plenty of the ‘Wild Rebel’ formation, a cousin of the ‘Wild Hog’ that Nutt’s Arkansas team ran to perfection last season vs. the Tigers in a 50-48 triple-overtime triumph in Baton Rouge.
The Razorbacks gouged LSU’s defense for 385 rushing yards that day, 206 from Darren McFadden, who lined up several times as the quarterback in shotgun formation – the ‘Wild Hog.’ McFadden was a dual threat, completing 3-of-6 passes, including a 24-yard TD pass to fullback Peyton Hillis.
Felix Jones also benefited from the gadget formation with 85 rushing yards on the ground.
“Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were spectacular at it,” Miles said. “Both are playing in the NFL and both have had great starts to what appears to be long, productive professional careers.
“Certainly the formation and the motions have responsibilities on how to defend it. I think we’re better at it now having experienced the best Wildcat formation that I’ve ever seen last year against Arkansas.”
McCluster has rushed for 457 yards and four touchdowns, while true freshman Bolden has compiled 400 yards on the ground and a pair of scores. The Rebels aren’t as effective throwing the ball from the formation as Arkansas was: McCluster and Bolden are a combined 1-for-5 through the air for 37 yards.
“It’s still effective with the misdirection and deception, but not as much of a passing threat,” Miles said.
The read on Snead
While Ole Miss won’t win with McCluster or Bolden throwing the ball, sophomore quarterback Jevan Snead has made the Rebels much more of a threat through the air.
In his first year of eligibility for Ole Miss after transferring from Texas, Snead is tied for second in the SEC in TD passes and ranks third in the league in passing yards per game (198.3) and pass efficiency (132.5). He has completed 136-of-254 passes with 11 interceptions.
As the Oklahoma State coach, Miles recruited Snead when he was a prep star at Stephenville (Texas).
“He’s a big, tall throwing quarterback,” Miles said. “I saw him in high school and liked him and thought he was a heck of a quarterback. He’s very productive for them.”
Defensive tackle Al Woods is “iffy” for this weekend according to Miles. Woods has been limited by foot and ankle injuries the last few weeks.
Backup quarterback Andrew Hatch was still on crutches as he left the football complex Wednesday and Miles said the sophomore wouldn’t play this week.