OXFORD, Miss. — Les Miles is working on the assumption that Ole Miss-LSU is still a big rivalry, that the Rebels will somehow patch together a workable defense tonight and he knows dang well that his rejuvenated defense will face a totally different offense than it had for its coming-out party last week against Florida.
The LSU coach has been in the SEC too long to think you can take anything for granted — even when you’ve beaten an alleged arch-rival 9 of the last 11 times.
Or maybe he remembers the Rebels’ last victory in the series — also their last win over a top 10 team — an infamous 25-23 upset of the Tigers here two years ago when a late LSU rally was spoiled by a time-management melt-down and the clock ran out within chip shot field goal range of a victory.
“There’s tradition and history, and it’s just more important,” Miles said of tonight’s game on ESPN2. “It’s a great game ... just a number of exciting finishes to a long-standing rivalry.”
The Magnolia Bowl trophy was added in 2008, but it hasn’t exactly rekindled the hey day of the series when much more than bragging rights was usually at stake.
Ole Miss (3-3, 1-3 SEC) is trying to change that under second-year head coach Hugh Freeze. He made a huge statement last February with a top five recruiting class, which came on top of a strong finish and bowl victory to the 2012 season.
Unfortunately, for the Rebels depth was already an issue before at least four defensive starters were lost in last week’s loss at home to Texas A&M. It’s to the point Freeze says he isn’t sure who will line up where on the defensive line.
“We’re preparing for their best effort,” Miles said. “We see on film that they’re very talented and capable. We would expect that.”
Miles perhaps isn’t sure who will play for his defense either — but it’s for all the right reasons.
No. 6 LSU (6-1, 3-1) used 21 different combinations in its defensive line alone last week — by choice — in holding Florida to a pair of field goals. Miles said part of the defensive improvement has been a influx of young talent that is coming together while keeping the unit fresh.
“I think we used that (Florida) game as a stepping stone,” said LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter, who was named the SEC defensive lineman of the week. “But we have to improve this game and keep the intensity up. We realize that.
“This week will be a good test for us.”
Certainly it will be different. While Florida had a conservative offensive approach, the Rebels prefer the trendy up-tempo approach.
“That’s college football,” Miles said. “Everybody has their own approach that benefits their personnel.”