Tiger Stadium Return

Mike Hilton is making a return trip to Baton Rouge, La., this weekend. He hopes the game is as much fun as two years ago but with a different outcome.

Ole Miss played LSU to the bitter end but lost 41-35 in a shootout in 2012, head coach Hugh Freeze’s first season in Oxford. Hilton wants this Saturday night to be as much fun as then. But, of course, he wants the Rebels to continue their undefeated ways.

There is quite a different mindset for this year’s Ole Miss team as opposed to two years ago. There’s been a lot of winning since then.

“That was my freshman year. We went down there expecting to get blown out,” said Hilton, a native of Fayetteville, Ga. “We were just trying to compete. It went down to the wire. We let one get away. We’re excited where we are now.”

Where they are is No. 3 in the country by most polls with a shot at a national championship. But only if they keep winning games. At 7-0 overall and 4-0 in Southeastern Conference play, the Rebels are all alone at the top of the league.

Up next is an LSU team that has found its way. After a slow start and even as late as Oct. 4 when the Tigers lost 41-7 at Auburn, it was thought to be a down year for LSU football.

Now the Tigers are back in the top 25 rankings and are 6-2 and 2-2. So much for LSU being down.

“It’s going to be a fun environment. The stadium’s going to be rocking,” Hilton said. “They’re coming after us this year after what happened last year. It’s another big SEC matchup. It’s going to be a fun one.”

What happened last year might have little effect on this year’s game. Ole Miss did win 27-24 in Oxford to knock off the No. 6 ranked (at the time) Tigers.

But this year is a new year. LSU has crept back into the rankings, standing as high as No. 23 coaches’ poll and No. 24 in the AP poll this week.

Hilton, a defensive back for the Rebels, said the Tigers’ offense is looking good these days.

“They’re getting back to their run down hill offense,” Hilton said of what he’s seen from the Tigers in their last couple of games – a 30-27 win at Florida and a 41-3 win against Kentucky at home.

“They’ve got the backs to do it. Their smallest back is around 215-220. I know they’re going to try to make us tackle, but we’re ready for it.”

The Tigers also have good receivers, and Hilton knows the Rebel defense will be tested in Death Valley.

“They’re young. They’ve got like three freshmen that start for them,” he said. “But in the future they’re going to be good. They’re all fast. They’re not too tall but they can move pretty well.

“We’ve just got to do our job on the back end and let the front seven keep doing what they’re doing. We know if everybody does their job and carries out their assignments, we’ll come out with a ‘W’ again.”

Hilton, at 5-foot-9, 182 pounds, and a junior, said the Rebels just have to do this week what they’ve done the previous two months.

“We are all starting to come together more as a team. We know what we can do,” he said. “We’re just taking it game at a time. Offense, defense, special teams. Just keep rolling with the momentum we have.”

Some other Mike Hilton thoughts on teammates -

* On Deterrian Shackelford: “Shack’s our emotional leader, to be honest. He’s the one that keeps us going. If he doesn’t make a play and somebody else does, he’s the first one to come over, jump up, and get rowdy. He’s a crowd favorite, and I’m happy to have him on my side. He’s the type person you need on your team.”

* On Trae Elston: “Trae is really one of our best players on defense. He’s physical and he’s not the biggest guy. He’s like me. And he loves the game.”

* On Tony Conner: “Tony’s made a big improvement. I was impressed with him from the first game he played against Vandy. He’s a speedy guy who can cover and also come up and hit, and that’s a good element to our defense. He’s big. He gets his hand on slot receivers, and it’s pretty much over. No slot can block him. He makes it easier for us.”

Hilton has played a number of positions. He said he prefers cornerback, but he will play wherever he is needed.

“I really just like to stay at corner, but as you can see, I’m willing to do whatever to help the team,” he said. “Whenever they need me, I’m here.”

So it’s back to Baton Rouge and another crack at beating LSU on its home turf. Hilton knows the challenge will be great, but he’s ready for it.

“It really was fun. That was my freshman year,” he said of two years ago. “I had never been to LSU. I wasn’t recruited by them. Nothing. So it was a good experience, and I’m ready to go back down there again.”


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