The primary storyline this week has surrounded Ed Orgeron’s return to Oxford as LSU head coach, but despite the headlines Orgeron coached on the east sideline of Vaught-Hemingway twice since his departure following the 2007 season. Both games came with Orgeron working as an assistant coach and neither was particularly close as the Rebels blew out Tennessee 42-17 in 2009 and LSU was beaten handily after trailing 24-0 in 2015.
But with the stories that have revolved around Orgeron’s tenure at Ole Miss, less has been discussed of the revival of LSU’s season. After the loss to Troy three weeks ago, close SEC wins over Florida and Auburn have seemingly gotten the season back on track but had either one of those gone poorly the Tigers season could have come completely untracked. Despite the wins, has anything really changes with the Tigers’ squad to show improvements?
Over the last few weeks, LSU shut down the primary threats of the opposing teams. Auburn was unable to run the ball as the game went on last week and proved unable to sustain drives through the air.
The primary threat for Ole Miss comes through the air as the Rebels have struggled to sustain their own drives. Ole Miss ranks 4th in Explosiveness (IsoPPP) but ranks only 51st in Standard Downs Success Rate and 74th in finishing drives. Too often this year, if Ole Miss doesn’t hit a big pass to A.J. Brown or D.K. Metcalf, the offense stalls out with a quick drive.
If Dave Aranda’s defense can take away the passing game like Alabama and Auburn did to Ole Miss, LSU should have little issue with picking up the win. As long as Ole Miss can hit the explosive plays that have been the hallmark of their season, the Rebels can extend the game and try to pick up their third consecutive home win over LSU.
It could be argued that special teams turned the tide of LSU’s wins the last two weeks. LSU picked up some luck as Florida’s kicker Eddy Pineiro missed a game tying extra point late in the game, but special teams played a large part in the victory over Auburn. Connor Culp hit a pair of fourth quarter field goals last week to go along with a made attempt at Florida. The freshman kicker is 4/5 on the season with all of his conversions coming from 30 yards or longer.
Aside from the kicking game, DJ Chark was a weapon in the punt game as he brought back a 75 yard return for a touchdown that sparked the Tigers’ comeback last week.
Ole Miss’ special teams for the season have been a mixed bag. The usually automatic Gary Wunderlich (22/23 in 2016) injured his plant foot/leg at Cal but had already missed a field goal each in the season’s first two games. Wunderlich was held out of the Vanderbilt game last week and his status for the LSU game is unknown. In his stead, Luke Logan missed the first attempt of his career at Cal before making two kicks last week.
In a potential close game, LSU’s consistency in special teams could tilt the field in their favor.
Last year, Leonard Fournette ran over, through and around Ole Miss for 284 yards as LSU dominated Ole Miss. Fournette has departed for the NFL and while Derrius Guice has been banged up, he is “the healthiest he’s been,” in a while per Orgeron. Despite Guice rounding into forum (and the blowouts to Alabama and Auburn), Ole Miss’ defense has shown some small improvements. Those improvements will not be enough though as Guice has a big day.
Ole Miss rallies in the second half to make the game tight, but Ed Orgeron does what he rarely did while he was Ole Miss head coach: win the game.