The LSU Tigers have to do something against Ole Miss that they have struggled with all season—stop the spread.
Against TCU, Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State, LSU has given up an average of 28.75 points and 414.5 yards in those four contests.
Though each team is different in its own right (Georgia focuses on Aaron Murray's passing more while Auburn relies heavily on the rushing attack), each team moved the football against the Tigers by using an uptempo shotgun-oriented offense that shuffled the defense around.
Expect nothing less from Ole Miss, who have become lethal offensively with the bright mind of Hugh Freeze intertwined with his gifted skill players.
Can the Tigers rise to the occasion and shut down Ole Miss' spread attack? Here are the five LSU players most responsible for doing so.
The spread offense allows offenses to run the ball more effectively by spreading out defenses, creating running lanes and exploiting matchups in the secondary.
In stopping spread offenses, defensive line play is key. The big fellas on the defensive line need to be able to shed blocks, fill gaps and supply pressure. Heavy tasks for heavy men. Anthony Johnson is the right man for the job.
Immediately following the Florida game, Johnson said that La'el Collins told him that Florida thought LSU's offensive line and defensive line were soft. "We had to go out there and show them how soft players play hard," Johnson said.
That mentality set the tone against Florida, but as I prefaced in the intro slide, Ole Miss presents a spread offense that's caused LSU problems. The Tigers gave up a combined 574 total yards and 47 points in the first two quarters against Georgia and Mississippi State.
One variable that contributed to the lackluster defensive performances was the ever-growing exhaustion on the defensive side of the ball. Forcing three-and-outs can eliminate that from happening against Ole Miss, but Johnson is going to have to be the anchor on that defensive line that prevents lengthy first down runs and sets up long passing third downs.
Can he build off of his performance against Florida?
Danielle Hunter was named the SEC defensive linemen of the week for his seven tackles and two pass breakups against the Gators. It was Hunter's first complete performance of the season, and each week, he's come on stronger for the Tigers.
The reason LSU was so effective in shutting down the Gators offense was the pressure applied by the front four.
The defensive tackles were getting penetration on the inside, while Jamaria Rasco and Hunter applied a nice pass rush.
With 1.5 sacks and 33 tackles this season, Rasco has been more consistent of the two defensive ends, as his numbers indicate. However, if Hunter can play at the same level that he did against Florida, Bo Wallace will have happy feet when he plays against the Tigers. Happy feet by the quarterback leads to turnovers.
Kwon Alexander's talents will be needed.
Coming in as a highly-touted recruit, Alexander faced high expectations as a true freshman last season. An injury derailed his season, but after a healthy start to the 2013 season, Alexander is third on the team in tackles with 35. He's a versatile linebacker that has the athleticism to cover and physicality to lay the wood on running backs.
"He's a talented guy that can make plays," said defensive coordinator John Chavis after the Florida game. "He broke his ankle in (the Florida game) one year ago and he was coming on then. As a matter of fact, in his freshman class, we thought he was the most athletic linebacker in the country."
It's easy to see why. Alexander makes phenomenal plays at times, accelerating and making big hits on running backs and wide receivers. However, he'll show his lack of experience by making critical mistakes that put his team in binds.
The Tigers' leading tackler, Lamin Barrow, is proving that he's versatile like Alexander, making tackles and shadowing backs out of the backfield. If Alexander can play at the same level as Barrow, the Tigers have a good chance of shutting down this Ole Miss offense that's averaging 433.5 yards per game.
Tre'Davious White has arrived.
White played exceptionally against Florida, doing his best Sugarland impression in the secondary.
His closing speed and ability to press receivers at the line have given LSU secondary hope. He's given up a few big touchdown plays, but he's also recorded an interception and served as a shutdown corner in the past six quarters. But as good as White has been in his true freshman campaign, he will have to improve further to shut down Ole Miss' great wide receivers.
With Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss arguably has two primary receivers for LSU's defensive backs to cover.
The good news is White gets plenty of practice trying to prevent big plays against athletic receivers all week long. But though covering Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry has seen him improve every passing week, one has to wonder if he can he hold his own for four quarters against two of the more athletic receivers in the SEC. If he can, Chavis will have more confidence to blitz and get after Wallace.
Craig Loston had his best performance of the season against Florida.
With nine tackles, Loston provided great run support and kept a lid on Florida's passing attack. Perhaps the biggest reason why it was his best performance was because it was a more conventional offense he faced.
Enter Ole Miss.
Wallace isn't close to being the best quarterback Loston will see, but Jeff Scott, Jaylen Walton and Barry Brunetti give the Rebels plenty of firepower in the running game, assuming Scott and Brunetti will be available for the contest.
Loston has the speed and athleticism to get his hands on them, but he must wrapup when does so. Completing tackles was a problem for him earlier in the season, as he likes to go for the ol' hit stick on defenders. Simply wrapping up and securing tackles will give LSU a greater shot at nullifying the Rebels' attack and forcing punts in the ball game.