By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – One of the SEC’s most traditional rivalry games could turn on which defenses show up Saturday for No. 6 LSU and Ole Miss.
The Rebels come limping in on that side of the ball after a rash of injuries against Texas A&M. The Tigers have struggled early mass attrition from last year’s team.
The Florida game alone helped LSU rise from No. 7 to No. 4 in the SEC’s total defense rankings.
The Tigers allowed the Gators just 240 yards and are now giving up 348.9 yards on average, almost 200 a game on the ground.
Through the half-way point of 2013 it’s been an uncharacteristic season for the LSU defense.
“Honestly, as the season keeps going on, I think everyone is starting to get on the same page,” junior defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said. “We played selflessly as a defense (against Florida). Everybody was in it for one another, and that’s why we got so much accomplished.”
The Tigers have been occasionally bothered by the second quarterback in a two-quarterback.
Ole Miss backup quarterback Barry Brunetti rushed five times for 24 yards – including a 13-yard run – and was 3-for-4 passing with two touchdowns against Texas A&M.
He also tweaked a lingering shoulder injury, and that had his availability for LSU in doubt earlier this week.
The wounded shoulder doesn’t only affect his passing.
“It affects the running, because you don’t want to take a hit on it. It makes it worse when you take a hit on it,” said Brunetti, the Rebels’ second-leading rusher with 169 yards. He’s averaging 5.3 yards per carry and has scored three touchdowns.
In spite of Brunetti’s improved passing against the Aggies, LSU coach Les Miles noted the different styles between Brunetti and Ole Miss starter Bo Wallace.
“It’s a system where you can see a guy has a different style and different strengths,” he said, “and you bring that guy in to do the things he can do for his team. You have two quarterbacks who are ready to go onto the field comfortably.”
As the week has progressed it’s become clearer that Ole Miss will have both of its quarterbacks.
On Monday, Rebels coach Hugh Freeze discussed the possibility of burning the redshirt of freshman quarterback Devante Kincade, rated the No. 12 dual threat quarterback last year by ESPN.
It appears that’s no longer necessary.
The Rebels will be without starting ends C.J. Johnson, Robert Nkemdiche. Cornerback Mike Hilton is also out, and linebacker Serderius Bryant may join them.
Others, like nose tackle Issac Gross, are expected to play but at less than full strength.
In a rivalry series that often produces close games, Miles believes LSU will get the Rebels’ best shot.
“We’re preparing for their best effort,” he said. “We see on film that they’re very talented and capable.”