My first exposure to Ole Miss football came at LSU’s Tiger Stadium. I don’t remember the year exactly, but it was at a time when the rivalry had tilted LSU’s way.
Between 1972 and 1992 it tilted Ole Miss’ way only four times.
The early 70s were my formative years for college football. It’s when I started paying attention.
I have a vague recollection of Bert Jones as LSU’s quarterback. I more clearly remember Yazoo City native Mike Miley in that position.
In those days I heard older LSU folks speak with great reverence for the rivalry with Ole Miss. I did not understand. Seemed to me then, and now, that a true rivalry is not dominated by one team.
I got to Mississippi in 1989 covering Southern Miss for the Meridian Star. I moved to Tupelo in 1993, but it wasn’t until beginning as the Ole Miss beat writer in 2002 that I began to more clearly understand what the rivalry was like. I knew what the scores were. I could see that. I couldn’t see the passion, however.
I’ve heard that passion described many times, never with more fervor than John Vaught did for Gene Phelps and I when we visited him at his home in the spring of 2003 in one of the last interviews he granted.
I bet if you could have told LSU folks in 1971 that they were about to go 15-4-1 in the next 20 games against Ole Miss there would have been a celebration.
The rivalry has a very colorful history.
Coaches love to tell us history doesn’t matter. Most of the time that’s true, and it’s true this time.
What matters is the recent history. How long you want to stretch your timeline determines how you feel about this game.
If you stretch it two games you see LSU going 2-0 against SEC East teams Florida and Kentucky, which are a combined 4-5 in SEC play with no wins against a team with a winning conference record.
Florida (2-3) has beaten Kentucky and Tennessee. Kentucky (2-2) has beaten Vanderbilt and South Carolina.
Kentucky is an improved team, and many gave the Wildcats a great chance to win in Baton Rouge after LSU’s struggles with SEC West opponents Mississippi State and Auburn and its delicate victory over Florida on the road.
The quality of LSU’s last two wins are debatable, but nothing builds confidence like winning, and LSU’s young players will have more of that plus a crowd of 100,000 plus behind them when Ole Miss takes the field Saturday night.
LSU has indeed rushed the ball better of late. Ole Miss has stopped the run much better over its last four games, although Alabama had some success on the ground with 168 yards in Oxford on Oct. 4.
This will tell the tale. How Ole Miss handles the LSU run game will be the main story line.
There are interesting sidebars. LSU has passed on only 26.8 percent of 138 snaps over the last two games. The Tigers passed on only 15 of 66 plays against Kentucky.
Ole Miss cornerbacks and safeties, understanding the Tigers’ run preference, will have to be disciplined enough to guard against play-action passes and screens too.
While LSU is only 17-for-37 passing the last two games, two of those passes have gone for touchdowns, and only one was intercepted.
The Rebels need to run the ball more effectively throughout the game. They had 180 yards on the ground against Tennessee but came out of the blocks slowly.
Much of that has to do with Hugh Freeze’s preference for conservative play-calling while the Rebels’ defense – No. 1 nationally in points allowed per game – is playing so well.
That’s not a bad approach, but Ole Miss needs to execute those base plays better early. The Rebels need to get some first downs, move the chains and do something to keep their defense off the field. Ole Miss had more punts (5) than pass completions (4) in the first quarter against Tennessee. Every three-and-out series for the LSU defense will be met by wild cheers from the 100,000 plus.
The Rebels avoided those cheers in College Station because they hit the Aggies in the mouth and took control of the game right away.
So a run game will make it easier for Ole Miss.
Bo Wallace has been playing well and needs another turnover-free performance. He hasn’t had a turnover in an SEC game and has gone 94 pass attempts without an interception.
Needless to say that needs to continue. But I’ll say it any way.
The end result of all of this is that the Ole Miss defense is playing lights out right now. The Rebels are simply too deep and too talented on that side of the ball for any offense to be one-dimensional against them.
LSU is a better football team than it was when State popped the Tigers in Baton Rouge in September.
That improvement, though, has come against the SEC East, and well, that’s a whole nother division.
Prediction: Ole Miss 21, LSU 17