LSU faces several challenges against Ole Miss

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Grant Delpit, AJ Brown, Devin White
Grant Delpit (#9) and DEvin White #$0) lead the LSU defense against Ole Miss receiver AJ Brown, (#1) and the Ole Miss Rebels (Photo: Terrill Weil).

LSU and Ole Miss face off the 104th time late Saturday night in Baton Rouge, and the Tigers own the series with a 61-41-1 record. The Bengal Tigers have beaten the Johnny Rebs in the past two meetings and three of the prior four overall in the annual rivalry.

With a win, LSU can become the second in program history to taste victory five times in September (2012 is the other). The Tigers have won five times in October in the 2003, ’07 and ’12 seasons.

As for this matchup, the Tigers have seven plays of 30 yards or more on offense and are 100 percent in coming up with scores in the red zone from their 16 trips so far this season. On the minus side. they’ve been penalized 32 times, second most in the SEC. Ole Miss has seen 26 flags on the year.

But you don’t get to 4-0 with a No. 5 ranking without a bunch more positives.

LSU is plus-8 in turnover margin, tied with Kansas as the only FBS teams with just one turnover this season. Joe Burrow has thrown 106 passes without suffering an interception.

The Tigers have sacked opposing passers 12 times. Michael Divinity has stepped up this year with 5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Ole Miss has nine sacks and allowed nine on their quarterback.

Ole Miss senior Jordan Ta’amu is the leading passer in the SEC with 1,359 yards (64%), 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Burrow is just under 50 percent in completion rate with 731 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. There’s that ball security stat again, and it’s crucial to the Tigers.

This matchup features two of the top four SEC rushers so far this season. Scottie Phillips has 467 yards rushing (7.5 yard average) with five scores to pace the Rebels while LSU senior Nick Brossette follows with 409 yards and five scores.

LSU’s defense will be challenged. Coming in 10th overall in the SEC in pass defense, the Tigers have given up 244 yards per game. That total is boosted by the 330 yards allowed to Louisiana Tech’s J’Mar Smith last week.

Ta’amu is throwing for 339.8 yards each outing and is coming off a 442 yard effort against Kent State. His targets are dangerous and among the nation’s very best

Ole Miss junior A.J. Brown, a 6-1, 230 specimen many project as a first round pick, has snared 26 passes for 381 yards (14.7 average) and three touchdowns. Sophomore D.K. Metcalf, also a big target at 6-4 and 230, has 18 catches for 308 yards (20.4 average) and four scores. Damarkus Lodge (6-2, 204, Sr.) has tallied 13 catches for 184 yards ( 14.2 yard average).

The Tigers have six total interceptions, led by Greedy Williams with a pair, and 17 passes broken up compared to 23 passes defended. Forcing turnover against Ole Miss will be a goal but preventing the big play is equally important.

The Rebels have been much maligned on defense but nose tackle Benito Jones (6-2, 315) will be an interior presence that LSU will have control. That will be a challenge for freshman guard Chasen Hines and first-year starting center Lloyd Cushenberry in particular. Jones, who has 10 tackles and 2.5 TFL, can beat double team blocks.

The Tigers will have to overcome their issues with young, inexperienced players on the offensive line. They have done a good job thus far despite attrition and significant shuffling of the lineup. If the Tigers can control the Rebels up front with the running game, the home team likely controls the game itself.

Outside linebacker Markel Winters (6-3, 252) is a tough senior who comes hard off the edge. He has 4.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks.

ODDS AND ENDS: Through four games, 12 freshmen have played for the Tigers (Place kicker Avery Atkins, LB Micah Baskerville, WR Ja’Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall, WR Kenan Jones, NT Nelson Jenkins, DT Davin Cotton, LB Damone Clark, CB Kelvin Joseph and RB Tae Provens). Marshall is the first true freshman to start a season opener for LSU since 2000.

LSU punter Zach Von Rosenberg is the sixth oldest player in college football this year. The granddaddy of them all is 31-year old Colorado kicker James Stefanou, a native of Melbourne, Australia.

Three Ole Miss players call Louisiana home – junior TE Jason Pellerin (a converted QB out of Catholic-New Iberia), LB Josh Clarke (Riverdale) and LB Zikerrion Baker (Minden).

A few coaches on the Ole Miss sideline have Pelican State ties including linebackers coach Jon Sumrall, who was the co-defensive coordinator at Tulane from 2012 to 2014. Receivers coach Jacob Peeler started on offensive line for La. Tech (2005 and ’06) before becoming the receivers coach in Ruston (2009-’12). Rebels defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff was secondary coach for Saints from 2013-’15. Offensive line coach Jack Bicknell served as head coach at La. Tech from 1999-’06.

FROM HERE ON OUT: The Tigers have not been spectacular and maybe they don’t have the look of a Top Five team yet, but they are winning. Their overall stats don’t wow you, but LSU is making plays when needed on both sides of the ball. The more success that they enjoy, the more confidence this young team gain. The only variable out of everyone’s control is injuries. So far they have handled that. Any more set backs on the offensive line could be disastrous.

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Rene Nadeau

Rene Nadeau

CCS/Fox Sports/ESPN/WFAN

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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