Mississippi-LSU Preview

Mississippi-LSU Preview

Published Oct. 21, 2014 7:35 p.m. ET

(AP) - Statistics might not tell the whole story about how good Mississippi's defense has been. But it's certainly a good place to start.

The third-ranked Rebels will face a stiff challenge Saturday night when they visit improved No. 24 LSU, which is coming off a dominant victory.

Ole Miss (7-0, 4-0 SEC) is giving up 10.6 points per game to lead the FBS, and its 15 interceptions are tied for the lead. The Rebels have a knack for big plays, too, scoring almost as many defensive touchdowns (4) as they've allowed (6).

In a 34-3 victory last Saturday, they held Tennessee to zero net rushing yards.


Next up is LSU (6-2, 2-2), which rolled to a 41-3 win over Kentucky last weekend.

''The last two weeks, (LSU has) gotten back to doing their bread and butter - that's physical (play), controlling the clock,'' Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. ''They're able to run the football with the outstanding backs that they have.''

The Rebels will counter with a defense that's a mix of upperclassmen and newcomers, and features plenty of depth on the line and in the secondary.

Senior Senquez Golson leads the conference with seven interceptions, including two against the Volunteers. Standout freshman Marquis Haynes tops the team with 6 1/2 sacks.

''I think there are talented guys in their secondary that anticipate the ball and can make plays," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I just think the combination of scheme and players make a difference for them.''

Ole Miss has been so good on defense it's changed the team's offensive strategy. Instead of Freeze's usual speed-it-up tempo, the Rebels are more deliberate and less likely to take chances.

''The big thing for me is I'm not trying to mess it up,'' quarterback Bo Wallace said. ''I'm going in and trying to not have any turnovers. The defense is playing well. If we punt it past the 50-yard line, they're probably not going to get points. It makes me feel a lot more comfortable.''

LSU was accustomed to being comfortable in this series as the favorite in the past 15 meetings. That won't be the case in this one, but Miles likes the way his team has performed lately.

Winless against the SEC West, the Tigers have taken advantage of weaker Eastern Division opponents the past two weeks, coming from behind to beat Florida 30-27 and then routing Kentucky.

After falling out of the national rankings for the first time in six years earlier this month, those victories have put the Tigers back in the AP Poll.

"Our football team is improving in all three phases," Miles said.

The numbers from last week's game back up Miles' claim. LSU had 303 yards rushing, held an SEC opponent without a touchdown and produced several big plays in the kicking game, including a punt return for a 67-yard TD.

"An offensive line which helps the team run the ball best takes pressure off the quarterback," Miles said. "When they protect the quarterback it allows him to go back in the pocket and do the things he wants to do."

The last time the Rebels played LSU as the higher-ranked team was 1999, when No. 25 Ole Miss won 42-23.

This time Ole Miss invades Death Valley in the running for an SEC title and a berth in the College Football Playoff.

"Coach Freeze is doing a great job building a quality program," Miles said. "They are a very talented team on both sides of the ball. Ole Miss has a style of team that deserves being nationally ranked and deserves the best efforts of their opponents."

LSU failed miserably in two matchups against powerhouse teams from the SEC West. Mississippi State took a 24-point lead before holding on to beat the Tigers 34-29 on Sept. 20. Then, LSU suffered its worst loss in 15 years at Auburn, falling 41-7 on Oct. 4.

"We are looking forward to another great opportunity to go against a very good defense," left guard Vadal Alexander said. "From what I remember from last year Ole Miss' defensive line has great game speed with great athletes. We have to come prepared."

Two seasons ago Wallace nearly led the Rebels to an upset victory at LSU. He passed for 310 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two, but LSU scored the last 13 points to win 41-35. A year ago, Wallace was 30 of 39 for 346 yards as the Rebels upset No. 6 LSU 27-24 on a 41-yard field goal with two seconds left.

"Bo Wallace is maybe one of the best quarterbacks who has gone through this conference," Miles said. "... We're lining up against one of the premier teams in our conference. It will certainly be a challenge for us."