BATON ROUGE, La. — Nobody involved with the 2016 LSU Tigers can claim a pleasant memory from their last dealing with Ole Miss.
For interim coach Ed Orgeron it involves a pink slip from the Rebels after a three-year stint running the program in Oxford from 2005-07. And for everyone who was part of LSU’s program last season, including then-defensive line coach Orgeron, there is the embarrassment of being handed a 38-17 loss at Mississippi last season — a defeat that at the time looked like it would be the end of Les Miles’ tenure at LSU.
So it goes without saying that the Tigers would like to erase those recent memories. And here are five things that will be crucial to giving themselves the “Men In Black” mind treatment.
1. Get them scared of Fournette early
After two practices Leonard Fournette looks ready to go full speed. But how long can he go at full speed?
Prior to this week Fournette has not played or practiced since the Auburn game Sept. 24, so it’s unclear what kind of workload his conditioning will allow against Ole Miss. But there’s no doubt he’ll be fresh early, and the Tigers should take advantage of that. Whether Fournette is capable of 15, 25 or 30 touches in this game, getting the ball to him early will set the tone that’s necessary to respect him even if he ends up being used as a decoy on play-action as the game progresses. Fournette in any condition makes LSU’s passing game better because of the possibility he will be used.
2. Play 60 minutes — the Rebels haven’t been
If the 2016 season were played under “Madden” rules with 5-minute quarters, the Rebels would be the best team in the nation.
Ole Miss jumped to fast starts against Florida State (28-6) and Alabama (24-3) but folded the tent starting on the final possession of the first half each time, losing both games.
If Ole Miss gets out to an early lead in this one, LSU can’t get discouraged. A comeback is possible, if not likely. But in theory the Rebel offense is capable of saving one of its huge bursts for the end of a game rather than the start of one. So a big lead isn’t necessarily safe, either, as Bama nearly learned the hard way in that wild 48-43 game.
In other words, the Tigers need to play all four quarters like they did the second half against Southern Miss last week.
3. Keep Chad Kelly in the pocket
Kelly isn’t exactly vintage Michael Vick when it comes to scrambling, but he’s a dangerous runner. Kelly is Mississippi’s second-leading rusher with 213 yards on 52 carries and even has a 41-yard touchdown run.
“He’s tough. He’s a little faster than you think he is,” Orgeron said. “And they spread it out. He’s able to read the defense, take what the defense gives him, and he’s hard to tackle.”
The Ole Miss receiving corps doesn’t need a ton of help beating defensive backs, but Kelly’s mobility buys them extra time to make the spectacular look routine. So this is a big game for Arden Key and LSU’s pass-rushing crew.
4. Win between the 20s on both sides of ball
When Ole Miss gets the ball into the red zone, you can pretty much guarantee there will be points on the board. And when the Ole Miss defense allows opponents into the red zone, you can pretty much guarantee there will be points on the board. So this game could come down to which team makes more trips inside the 20.
The Rebels have failed to score twice on 30 red-zone trips this season, and 22 of those have been touchdowns. In the league only Tennessee scores red-zone touchdowns at a more efficient clip. And it’s not just Kelly and his receivers doing damage with nine of those touchdowns coming on the ground.
On the flip side, the Ole Miss defense has been dreadful stopping opponents in the red zone. The Rebels have surrendered a league-high 17 touchdowns inside the 20 and have only forced one turnover in 27 opposing trips.
An offense should always expect to score when in the red zone, but that’s particularly true against this team.
5. Run it down their throats
This is always a sound strategy when you have perhaps the nation’s best backfield finally back together in Fournette and Derrius Guice, though it remains to be seen what sort of mad science offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger puts together to actually get both of them in the game at the same time.
But whether it’s in a tricked-out formation or simply alternating the backs, the Tigers will have a chance to do serious damage against a defense ranking 12th in the SEC against the run at 212.8 yards per game. In turn, that should help keep the Rebels’ powerful offense on the sidelines.