Let’s get one thing out there from the get-go: this game means absolutely nothing on the national scene and even less in terms of the conference championship. What it will help determine is bowl seeding as LSU and Ole Miss fight for the right to be #3 in the final overall SEC standings. That’s a difference between a bowl game in Dallas or Orlando.
Blogcritics’ Jay Skipworth and Josh Hathaway present cases for both teams and offer their picks for the game.
This game will be televised Saturday on CBS at 3:30 E.S.T.
Three Reasons Ole Miss can win by Jay Skipworth
1. Dexter McCluster
This is what coaches call “the X factor” on the field. McCluster can take it to the house from RB, WR, or returning kicks. When he gets in open field, it’s like watching the Road Runner take off. He’s that fast.In two of the Rebels losses, McCluster was a non-factor primarily because the gameplan did not feature him. Houston Nutt and company have figured out that this guy needs to be fed the ball in multiple ways in order to spark the Ole Miss offense and they have done that over the last part of the season. LSU hasn’t seen this kind of speed since Percy Harvin from Florida.
2. Ole Miss Defense
Ole Miss ranks right in the upper middle of the league in defense and in the upper third in scoring defense (surrendering around 16 points per game). That may not seem like much of an advantage, but when you hold it up against LSU’s inconsistent offense (decimated with injuries at major positions), it tips the scales to the Rebels.
3. Home Field Advantage.
In his two years in Oxford, the Rebels have lost only once under Houston Nutt. Everyone knows the key to building a successful program is to win your games at home, especially conference games. In the SEC, that is impressive. Both coaches are a bit…unconventional. However, Nutt is at his best when the pressure is off and he’s got the home crowd in his back pocket.
Rebuttal by Josh Hathaway
Jay, I agree with all your points to some degree and this game could certainly tilt in Ole Miss’ direction. I’ll say this, though. Alabama gouged that Ole Miss defense on the ground in a game when quarterback Greg McElroy struggled. LSU doesn’t have the same quality of backs/offensive line but their line is big and physical. Even against stacked fronts, the Tigers may be able to implement aspects of the Bama gameplan and execute them against the Ole Miss defense. McCluster is very fast and versatile, but Ole Miss hasn’t proved to me they can consistently get him the ball in positions to change the game. In a game I expect to be dominated by defense he won’t have to do it often, but he has been contained.
Three Reasons LSU can win by Josh Hathaway
1. The (likely) Return of Jordan Jefferson
This is addition by subtraction. Every snap Jefferson plays is a snap Jarrett Lee won’t be taking. Jefferson is not a Jedi, but he doesn’t get his team beat the way Lee does. It’s not Scientific Law, but the Tigers’ won-loss record is a lot better with Jefferson than Lee. Jefferson will likely be limited somewhat in his mobility coming off a sprained ankle two weeks ago at Alabama, but coach Les Miles is confident he’ll be able to move a little and he’s throwing the ball well in practice. If Jefferson returns, he’s an efficient passer who can make a few plays and gives the Tigers a chance to have a more diverse attack. This LSU team lacks the star power of teams past, but never forget they are loaded with athletes capable of making great plays. Jefferson at the helm makes it easier for the other players around him to do just that.
2. LSU Offensive Line vs Ole Miss Defensive Line Statistically, the Rebel defense is right on par with LSU as a better than average SEC defense. LSU is big and physical up front, averaging nearly 302 pounds per man across the front. LSU lost their most experienced running back in Charles Scott for the season at Alabama, but a powerful offensive line capable of winning the individual battles up front gives the Tiger offense a legitimate chance to run the football effectively. It may not be a flashy attack, but they have a very good chance of creating some running lanes to make it effective.
3. John Chavis vs Jevan Snead
I was never a big fan of defensive coordinator John Chavis when he was at Tennessee, but we’ve seen Jevan Snead struggle this year when he’s been pressured. Snead was touted as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate coming in to this season and he hasn’t played anywhere near that level. Snead is a talented kid with ability but he hasn’t yet demonstrated an ability to consistently manage a game and his own play, particularly when teams apply pressure. As I said earlier, this LSU team isn’t filled with the stars we’re used to seeing but they are talented and Chavis may be able to dial up just enough mayhem to keep Ole Miss’ offense from scoring.
Rebuttal by Jay Skipworth
You make solid points, Josh, but I will still say the fact that neither Jordan Jefferson, the LSU offensive line, or John Chavis are “Jedi” are reasons to think they will falter in this game. Jefferson’s best attribute is he doesn’t turn the ball over a lot. He also doesn’t score a ton and he isn’t going to beat Ole Miss by himself. The LSU offensive line is big, but they play slow at times and that allows for pressure in the backfield. Jevan Snead isn’t great, but he doesn’t have to be and neither does the Ole Miss offensive strategy to out-scheme John Chavis.
Jay Skipworth: Ole Miss 27, LSU 17
LSU’s offense was no juggernaut when they had a running game threat. Now without Charles Scott and with an injured Jordan Jefferson, all of the pressure is on the defense. That spells trouble for LSU. Ole Miss’s Dexter McCluster is a difference maker and will be the difference in this game.
Josh Hathaway: LSU 17, Ole Miss 13
This game is going to be physical, nasty, and close. It’s also likely to be frustrating at times as both teams struggle in spite of their obvious talents- something I lay at the foot of the respective coaches. I don’t have a strong feeling on this one but Ole Miss seems to wither under expectations just a little more than LSU.