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Hobbs Column: Rebels hurting, but not on offense

Last Modified: Friday, October 18, 2013 1:15 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

LSU figures to spend a lot of the next month or so reminding anyone who will listen that Georgia was a healthy team when the Tigers played and lost a thriller to the Bulldogs.

So maybe Ole Miss this week is the Tigers’ reward for the poor timing of their visit to Georgia.

Maybe it all evens out.

The beat-up Rebels are trying desperately to field a varsity for LSU’s visit Saturday night, and promise to get 11 on both sides of the ball by kickoff.

But it’s been tricky.

They were carting them off left and right in a heartbreaking 41-38 loss to Johnny Autograph and Texas A&M last Saturday night.

“I don’t like to make excuses,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “But we lost six (defensive) starters in that game. We only had one personnel grouping we could put on the field.”

Among them was leading tackler Serderius Bryant and defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the nation’s No. 1 recruit last February, who pulled a hamstring (and apparently had a vowel knocked out) in the fracas with the Aggies. And defensive end C.J. Johnson, recently back from a broken fibula in the spring, will miss the rest of the season with ankle surgery scheduled for Oct. 28.

With the three top defensive ends missing, the Rebels had to move an offensive lineman to that spot for this week.

“We ain’t got but so many,” Freeze said. “We’re going to play four down linemen. I really don’t know who is playing exactly where right now.”

Two of the defensive starters could be back, even if at undetermined speed. When the Rebels walk toward the stadium down through The Grove, college football’s only white-linen and candelabra tailgating zone, they might have to pick up a few of the stronger revelers to be bona fide Rebels for a day.

So this is setting up so swimmingly for LSU that it almost looks like a setup, or what is known in the trade as a “trap game.”

We may need a ruling. Not sure you can have a trap game when your next opponent is Furman.

But, with all these wounded Rebels, it would appear that the Tigers’ biggest problem might be getting a little too full of themselves after pushing Florida around hammer and, uh, nail last week.

They do need to remember that, though the rivalry lost some of its venom over the years, Ole Miss still seems to really hate LSU. And the Rebels do tend to make these games more dicey than the experts would predict.

Example A was last year when LSU was pretty darn lucky to escape with a 41-35 victory. Ole Miss probably deserved to win the game and the Tigers were pretty wise in scoring the winning touchdown with 15 seconds remaining.

Their defense wasn’t slowing Ole Miss down much at the time.

Of course, LSU is gaga about it defense finally coming up for air last week and resembling something the Tigers normally put on the field.

It makes for a good story, and it was pretty impressive in holding Florida to a pair of field goals.

But Ole Miss is a different animal on offense. Florida’s offense was trying not to lose the game. The Tigers didn’t really have to worry about the Gators getting fancy or trying to throw it over their heads.

Ole Miss, on the other hand, not only loves it some up-tempo, no-huddle shenanigans, the Rebels know they don’t have much choice but to let out all the stops, devil may care, against LSU and take its chances in a Georgia-style track meet.

Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace almost drove LSU crazy last year before the Tigers won 41-35. Wallace, in fact, gave LSU a lot more trouble than Johnny Football did a few weeks earlier at Texas A&M.

He threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores, 79 yards on the ground all told.

And that was back in the days when the LSU defense was mostly bailing out its offense.

So this is going to be a far better test for that newfound LSU defense than Florida was.

The LSU offensive challenge, probably not so much.

Yeah, I’m kind of like you.

Now that LSU has learned to tackle, it boggles the mind what might happen if the offense went on one of those entertaining scoring sprees while holding the other side of the scoreboard at bay.

But you know what Les Miles is thinking, of course.

There’s that sneaky Ole Miss offense he can’t trust, and there’s most of the Rebels defense, particularly the front seven, in sick bay.

He’s going to want to play keep-away. He’s going to want to pound it and pound it and control the game and run the clock and keep Wallace on the sidelines.

It will probably be effective. Even when healthy, the Rebels were 12th in the SEC against the run. That will also be a good run-through for the looming battle Texas A&M’s similarly styled offense.

But it’s not going to help much in beating Alabama next month.

Not that the Tigers need to overlooking Furman.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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