Ole Miss seeks improvement in second shot vs nation’s elite
OXFORD, Miss. — Mississippi gets its second shot in three weekends to beat a team that’s ranked among the nation’s top five programs.
The Rebels hope this one goes better than the first one.
Ole Miss (3-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) travels to face No. 5 LSU (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday, two weekends after getting crushed by No. 1 Alabama 62-7 in Oxford. The Rebels still have the same general profile — a productive offense and porous defense — but hope to maximize their strengths during the trip to Baton Rouge.
“We’re going to play another awesome defense in Death Valley against LSU that is very physical and athletic,” Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. “We have to answer the call and execute better than the last time we faced someone of this caliber.”
If Ole Miss is going to pull off the upset, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu almost certainly has to have a good game. The senior has been among the nation’s most productive passers, throwing for 1,359 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.
But Alabama didn’t let him do much in the lopsided loss two weeks ago, batting down multiple passes at the line of scrimmage. Ta’amu normally completes his throws at about a 65 percent rate, but was held to just 7 of 22 passing for 133 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions against the Tide.
Ta’amu has also been bothered by soreness in both shoulders, but is expected to be at full strength for the LSU game. Luke says the Tigers’ defense will pose different challenges than Alabama.
“I would say LSU is a little more of an attacking front, where Alabama just holds point,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “It’s hard to move those guys. I would say the secondary there are some similarities because of their length. It’s a little bit different scheme up front.”
If Ta’amu can complete more passes, it puts the ball in the hands of the team’s most talented players. Ole Miss has three receivers — A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge — who are considered promising NFL prospects.
Ole Miss is also starting to involve running back Scottie Phillips in the passing game. The junior caught a short pass against Kent State last week and ran for a 38-yard touchdown.
“I think you’ve got to be very smart with the football,” Luke said. “We have to protect the football. We need some high-percentage throws so we can get on schedule and get the rhythm that we need offensively.”
The Ole Miss defense looked a little better in last weekend’s 38-17 win against Kent State after being — at least statistically — one of the nation’s worst through three games. The Rebels had seven sacks against the Golden Flashes and hope to create similar havoc in the Tigers’ backfield.
Markel Winters (four tackles for a loss) and Charles Wiley (three TFLs) were especially productive against Kent State and Luke said that’s the kind of aggressive play he hopes to see during the season’s final two months.
“If we’re going to make a mistake, let’s make a mistake attacking, and I thought they did a good job at that,” Luke said.