LSU making strides, but nasty Ole Miss defense awaits

Published 8:03 am Monday, October 20, 2014

BATON ROUGE — Yo, LSU. I thought this little nugget out of Oxford, Miss., might be of interest to you.

It happened Saturday, as you might imagine, in a sanctioned NCAA football game and involved Ole Miss, the Tigers’ upcoming opponent for this week.

Against the Rebels, the University of Tennessee, a member in good standing of the Southeastern Conference, had 0 yards rushing.

That’s not a misprint. That’s a zero. As in nothing. Nada. Big fat load of squat for the entire 60-minute game.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. The Vols rushed it 28 times and got zero yards, which comes out to — let’s see here — that would be 0.0000 yards per carry.

Check my math. I may have forgotten to carry the zero. Common Core may disagree, but I’m pretty sure that’s right.

And I know what you’re thinking.

Oh, the NCAA figures sacks into rushing totals.

OK. Ole Miss had seven sacks for 41 yards in the red. So when not caving in to the Rebels’ pass rush, the Vols were rushing the ball 21 times for 41 yards, presumably getting those sack yards back to get to ground zero.

That’s just a hair under two yards per traditional carry — trust me — which probably did little more than annoy Ole Miss.

And somewhere in this carnage the Vols managed a 17-yard run (some poor Rebel is probably running stadium steps for it). The next longest was four yards. So for the other actual runs, Tennessee netted 24 yards on 20 carries — or roughly 1.2 yards per attempt.

We can shake and bake these numbers all day long. Fun, isn’t it?

But any way you want to dicker with it, it comes out to ZERO YARDS RUSHING.

(Insert long, thoughtful pause).

But good luck, anyway, LSU, this week with that game plan that hammered Kentucky into crying “Uncle” Saturday night.

It was a tad monotonous as the Tigers ran and ran and then ran it some more — 51 times — to the tune of 303 yards rushing, mostly right up the gut, often as not in big chunks. It would have been more, but LSU’s special teams keep setting the offense within the shadow of the goal posts, where very little heavy lifting was required.

So the Tigers dug in and pounded away, impressively so.

Les Miles wasn’t trying to be stubborn again — for the last time, he really DOES prefer to be balanced.

He was just trying to win the blasted game, and the Kentucky defensive front was extremely accommodating.

He’ll worry about Ole Miss this week.

The 41-3 victory — it could have been far worse if Uncle Les wasn’t such a kindly soul — was LSU’s most impressive to date.

It got the Tigers bowl eligible (6-2) and back in the rankings (No. 23 in coaches’ poll, No. 24 in AP). That may not sound like much, except that it hardly seemed like a given when LSU was wading out of the debris of the Auburn debacle two weeks ago.

But two impressive weeks later, LSU has proved it can get physical and run, and its defense has come light years, using its speed for good rather than to get farther out of position.

So the last two weeks pretty much insure that the season won’t be a total embarrassment.

But, really, there was nothing that happened in a total demolition of Kentucky that suggested the Tigers might beat Ole Miss this week, even at home, even with ESPN’s College Game Day making an appearance.

The Tigers may or may not run on the Rebels, but they surely can no longer hide their quarterback.

Apparently it IS quarterback, singular.

Anthony Jennings was forgiven for imploding, at home in the friendly confines, against cuddly New Mexico State.

Brandon Harris was not forgiven for imploding, on the road, at hostile Auburn.

There must be a reason, but there is no longer a competition for the starting job.

It’s obvious the Tigers are going to sink or swim with Jennings and perhaps reexamine Harris’ elusive bigger upside in the spring.

If the Kentucky game wasn’t over by end of the first quarter, it was surely over by halftime (27-3). And yet Harris didn’t play until the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter.

Jennings is the man apparently because he can be trusted to stay out of the way and not to serve the game up on a platter to an opponent.

Which is fine … if you can also count on rushing for 304 yards every game. And it’s worth noting that LSU actually got 231 of those yards in the second half when Kentucky had lost the stomach for it.

So while LSU has improved in most areas across the board in the last two weeks, the quarterback play really hasn’t changed much.

The remedial passing game basically amounts to either dumping off to a back or waiting — and waiting, waiting … waiting with excruciating indecisiveness in the pocket — for somebody to break wide open.

Or, failing that, just chunking it deep and hoping Travin Dural can either out-wrestle somebody or draw a flag,

Again, good luck with that against Ole Miss.

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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU sports. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com(Associated Press)

John Bazemore