COLUMN: Valley Shook

BATON ROUGE, LA - LSU turned back the Rebels 10-7 with a power running attack and a defense that gave up very little. Meanwhile, for the first time all year, the Rebel offense could not get a needed spark.

An old-fashioned defensive donnybrook had an old-fashioned result.

The team that was able to run the ball won. The team that was not able to run the ball lost.

The Rebels had not faced a true power running attack all year.

It was a major concern heading into the Ole Miss-LSU game Saturday night.

That "worry" proved to be real as the Tigers powered their way to a hard-fought win and sent the third-ranked Rebs home with their first loss of the year. Even though the vaunted Landshark defense didn't give up much, and gave the Rebels a chance to win, in the end, the Tigers gained 254 yards on the ground and their lone touchdown came on the heels of a 95-yard march that only had one pass - the TD on a play-action toss to the tight end.

The Rebs usually get that power test against Alabama, but the Tide has gone to a zone blocking scheme. LSU has stayed with their power scheme that employs double teams, washing DL down and leading with a fullback.

Even though the coaches went "bigger" up front by starting Bryon Bennett at DE instead of DT, the Rebs never could completely solve the muscle of RBs Leonard Fournette and Terrence McGee and Kenny Hilliard.

"I said earlier in the week that LSU had found their identity and their power game concerned me, but our defense caused some turnovers and was opportunistic and kept us in the game," said Coach Hugh Freeze. "That was the best offensive line we have faced, for sure. And those big backs were patient and waited on their blocks.

"Our guys fought their guts out and gave us a chance, but LSU was able to keep the ball and then when we did get it back, we did nothing with it."

Having said that, it's very hard to complain about the defensive effort. Holding an opponent to 10 points in this day and age of offensive football should be a winning effort, but the Ole Miss offense was too anemic for too long.

"We never could get any run game going and our passing game was just off. When we had some open receivers, we'd either miss them or get a ball batted down at a critical time," Freeze stated. "We never got in an offensive rhythm."

The Tiger defense, spurred on by a raucous home crowd, also played inspired football. The Rebels could never, as they did at Texas A&M, take the crowd out of the game.

"We were just ineffective on offense, especially in the second half. That falls on me and the offensive coaches," Freeze continued. "Our kids fought the whole time, we just could not generate any points to get any momentum or get the crowd out of the game."

The Rebels only had 137 yards on 34 carries and QB Bo Wallace could not get much going in the air, completing just 14-33 passes for 176 yards.

"The issues were obvious to me. One, LSU is pretty good. Two, they were able to stay in a two-high shell and still stop our run game," Hugh stated. "We struggled when (LT) Laremy Tunsil went out for much of the second half. We had to move some people around and that hurt us some.

"I thought we had a couple of chances, but we just came up a little short and then we could not convert. We didn't win many one-on-one battles with our backs - they tackled very well."

Both Nkemdiches, Cody Prewitt and Tunsil all missed valuable time. Denzel, Freeze guessed, may be out with a fractured foot.

"Coach (Les) Miles did a terrific job of getting his guys ready and just coming straight at us," said Freeze. "Tonight, that was good enough."

So where from here? The Rebs' fate is still in their hands. Win out and they go to Atlanta, but the road doesn't get any easier.

"The kids are hurt right now, but they are not the only team in the country who is going through this," he closed. "How we handle it is up to everyone in that room, coaches and players alike.

"We still control everything we want, but we know we have to play really good football. They are sore, they are down, but hopefully they will respond the right way. I believe this team will handle adversity the right way."

The Rebels will have their normal Sunday heart-to-heart and get back in the saddle.

Auburn awaits.

The Rebels will have to lick some deep wounds, physically and mentally.

It will be an interesting week because this is the first time the Rebels have had to face a letdown of any kind this year.

Their egos, pride and psyche have to be bruised.

Life in the SEC can be a cruel mistress.

Ole Miss got a bite of that in Death Valley Saturday night and it didn't taste good.


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