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LSU vs. Ole Miss: Biggest Factors That Will Shape SEC Showdown

LSU's Zach Mettenberger must step up this weekend to compete with Ole Miss.
LSU's Zach Mettenberger must step up this weekend to compete with Ole Miss.Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Alex KomaContributor IIIOctober 18, 2013

The LSU Tigers may have their impending matchup with the Alabama Crimson Tide circled on their calendars, but they’d be unwise to overlook the upcoming road game against the Ole Miss Rebels.

Hugh Freeze’s team may be just 3-3 right now, but it’s not as if the Rebels are playing really poorly.

Mississippi just lost a 41-38 heartbreaker to the Texas A&M Aggies, and the team even led by a touchdown in the fourth quarter. 

The Rebels certainly won’t be a pushover, as their last few games against LSU have proved. Since 2006, four of the teams’ seven games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

LSU needs this win to keep up with Alabama in the SEC West, but it should be a hard fought contest that’s decided by a few key factors.


Defensive Youth

Les Miles’ defense is only allowing 22 points per game, but there’s some real youth on the unit.

There are four sophomores on the starting defense and one freshman at cornerback. The unit has held up so far, but it has still had its fair share of youthful mistakes. 

Just watch the way Georgia Bulldogs’ quarterback Aaron Murray finds Michael Bennett unguarded in the end zone in this clip. 

Ole Miss may have suffered the loss last week, but Bo Wallace still threw for 301 yards and three scores.

LSU’s defense will have to step up in a big way to prevent Wallace from torching the secondary.


Ole Miss Injuries

Robert Nkemdiche is just one of several important Ole Miss defenders that will miss the LSU game.
Robert Nkemdiche is just one of several important Ole Miss defenders that will miss the LSU game.Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

The Rebels face a real challenge defending the Tigers’ potent offense, but it’ll be even more imposing with the defensive injuries they’ve suffered.

Linebacker and leading tackler Serderius Bryant will likely miss the game with a concussion, while defensive end Robert Nkemdiche will sit out with a hamstring injury.

Combined with the news that defensive end C.J. Johnson, the team’s sacks leader last season, is out for the year with a knee injury, the Rebels are painfully thin on defense.

Ole Miss was already shaky on defense, allowing 27.8 points per game, and LSU’s elite offense will present a real challenge, as ESPN’s Sam Khan Jr. explains.

How explosive has LSU’s new offense been? Consider this: LSU is second in the nation in total plays of 20 yards or more. The Tigers have 50 such plays through their first seven games, second only to Oregon (56). Compare that to 2012, when the Tigers had 59 plays of 20 or more yards all last season (13 games).

Ole Miss has 73 missed tackles this season, which is the highest total among AQ-conference teams so far this season.

It will take a huge effort from the defense to slow down LSU, but it all truly hinges on the Tigers’ quarterback.


Zach Mettenberger struggled last week and will need to return to form against Ole Miss.
Zach Mettenberger struggled last week and will need to return to form against Ole Miss.Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Mettenberger Rebounds?

LSU won’t be able to take advantage of the Rebels’ weakened defense if quarterback Zach Metternberger can’t return to form.

He only completed nine of 17 passes for 152 yards last week against the Florida Gators, all of which were season lows. 

A lot of these struggles were undoubtedly due to Florida’s superb defense, but it still might be a bit of a reason for LSU fans to worry. 

Mettenberger might’ve tweaked his knee in last week’s game, and while he’s insisted it’s fine this week, it was noticeably affecting him against the Gators, as CBS' Tracy Wolfson noticed.

The Tigers will need the quarterback at full strength if the defense can’t stop Wallace and the rest of Ole Miss’ offense. 

This matchup might seem like another SEC defensive battle, but there will be plenty of points in this one.

Both teams have issues on defense, so it’ll likely be the offenses that decide this contest.

LSU has more firepower, should Mettenberger step up, but Ole Miss has weapons too.

The Tigers should be able to escape Oxford with a win, but there’s no doubt that it’ll be a compelling game.

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