GAMETIME PREVIEW: Ole Miss
LSU looks to maintain focus against Rebels
By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
With preseason goals of divisional, conference, and national titles basically unreachable at this point in the season and two lackluster opponents remaining on the schedule, it’s easy to see how LSU could look ahead to the 2013 season.
To make present matters more difficult to focus on, LSU’s offense is finally clicking into full-gear, and the return of key pieces next season leads to an optimistic tendency to peek ahead.
“It’s hard not to look ahead to next year,” admitted Tiger QB Zach Mettenberger. “But at the same time, we have a game against Ole Miss next week, and that’s our primary concern this year.”
Even with the above goals out of reach, LSU still has a lot to play for. If the chips fall correctly, the Tigers could end up in a BCS bowl as an at-large berth. Florida losing to Florida State would help matters, and if Pac-12 Oregon remains undefeated and runs into the BCS title game, the Tigers could be Pasadena-bound for the Rose Bowl.
None of that can happen if LSU falters down the home stretch, however, particularly against a 5-5, 2-4 Ole Miss team that is improved from 2011 under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze but needs a win in its final two games to claim bowl eligibility.
The Rebels nearly reached that goal last week against Vanderbilt, but blew a late lead and lost 27-26. They did so despite a 31-of-49, 403 yard, 1 TD showing from sophomore QB Bo Wallace. A big part of the loss, however, was Wallace and the offense’s inability to get six, as the Rebels settled for four field goals on the night.
“The stats probably look good, but there were a couple of times when we were in the red-zone where we could have punched it in, and maybe I made a bad decision or something like that,” Wallace said after the game. “So it’s a tough loss.”
LSU won’t want to see Ole Miss get bowl eligibility in Tiger Stadium, particularly as the Tigers celebrate Senior Day. The game will be the last at home for Russell Shepard, Chase Clement, Josh Dworaczyk, P.J. Lonergan, and host of other Tiger seniors.
“It’s been a great four years,” said Shepard, a former top recruit who has fluttered in and out of LSU’s offensive game plans for four seasons but is suddenly back in the mix. Shepard rushed eight times for 33 yards on Saturday in the win over Mississippi State.
“It’s not always gone like I expected, but I’m just glad to be a part of this team, of this school,” said Shepard. “Anything I can do to contribute a win to this team, that’s what I’ll do.”
And wouldn’t Shepard like to end his career in Death Valley with a win. LSU (8-2, 4-2) will be highly-favored to do so, bringing the SEC’s best pass defense to the field Saturday to slow down Wallace. The Tigers are also second in the SEC in rushing, total, and scoring defense, so Ole Miss will have their work cut out for them.
While the Rebels don’t do a whole lot of things well, they don’t do a lot of things poorly, either, ranking in the middle of the pack in nearly every major offensive and defensive category among SEC teams. One thing they do extremely well, however, is pressure quarterbacks, racking up 2.90 sacks per game and 7.70 tackles for loss per game - both second in the SEC. It’ll be imperative for LSU to protect Mettenberger, then, should LSU hope to continue its recent run of form on offense.
But the Tigers are, surely, the better team. On both sides of the ball, LSU is more talented than their counterparts, as the Rebels are still in rebuilding mode under Freeze - even if they are ahead of schedule.
That’ll be the key for LSU - not getting ahead of schedule. Focusing on Saturday and Saturday only is all LSU needs to do to win. Les Miles expects as much.
“There is a fundamental feeling in this stadium and in our football building that we are just catching speed,” Miles said after the win over State. “We are not going to sacrifice our improvement.”