By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – It appears the light may have come on for LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
That makes the eighth-ranked Tigers more difficult to defend, but before there was Mettenberger, there was the LSU run game.
It’s still there.
“It’s LSU. Every time I’ve played them they’ve always had at least two good backs,” said Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, who has also been on SEC staffs at Arkansas, twice, and South Carolina. “Now there are like four of them.”
While the passing game struggled early, Mettenberger, the junior college transfer, has completed 43 of 65 passes for 571 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions the last two weeks.
The Tigers have been formidable all year in the run game, currently averaging 192.5 yards a game, fourth in the SEC.
And they’ve done it by committee, the chairman, of late, being freshman Jeremy Hill, 6-foot-2, 235 pounds.
Last week, Mississippi State contained Hill to just 48 yards on 15 carries, but allowed a big day to Mettenberger.
Hill has 477 yards and six touchdowns on the season, and the MSU game ended a string of successive 100-yard games against SEC foes South Carolina, Florida and Alabama.
“We do best against the run right now. We have to stop the run first, and then we stop the passing game,” Ole Miss defensive tackle Issac Gross said.
LSU is 48-0 under Les Miles when rushing for 100 yards and holding its opponent under 100 yards in the same game.
That’s happened six times this season, and the Tigers are facing an Ole Miss offense that hasn’t rushed for 100 yards in a month.
The Rebels can draw on recent success against the run. They allowed a 100-yard game to Georgia freshman Todd Gurley, but as a whole the Bulldogs averaged just 3.3 yards per carry.
Last week the Rebels knocked Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy out of the game early and held the Commodores to 2.9 yards per rush.
For the year the Rebels are just ninth in the SEC against the run, allowing 143.7 yards a game. That’s still ranks them No. 42 nationally, compared to No. 108 at this time last year.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze cites improvement since the Texas in mid-September and says his defense has cut down opponents’ explosive plays in the run game.
“I couldn’t be more pleased. For us to be under-sized and beat up at some spots, for the kids to play with the effort they have and stop the run against some good rushing attacks, I think they have done a wonderful job. Hopefully that will continue Saturday,” he said.
Wommack would like to see the Rebels’ less vulnerable in the play-action pass off the run.
While depth has been a concern in the secondary, the Ole Miss front seven has been able to rotate players and stay fresh.
The Rebels will use as many as six players at their two defensive tackle spots.
“We’ve done decent against the run, not as good as we’ll be in the future, but I think we’ve got a good run scheme,” Wommack said. We’ve been able to keep for the most part the linebackers healthy, knock on wood, and then we’ve been able to change out the D line. That helps us.”