|Date of game: 10/25/2014
(3) Ole Miss (7-0) at (24) LSU (6-2) (ET)
GAME NOTES: The third-ranked Ole Miss Rebels will put their undefeated record to the test in Death Valley on Saturday night when they travel to Baton Rouge to take on the 24th-ranked LSU Tigers in an SEC showdown at Tiger Stadium.
Ole Miss' perfect season so far has left it one of just four remaining unbeatens in the nation, joining No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 2 Florida State and No. 23 Marshall. The highlight of the Rebels' season came in a 23-17 victory over then-No. 3 Alabama, and they most recently made easy work of Tennessee last weekend with a 34-3 triumph to improve to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the daunting SEC.
"We're excited to be 7-0 going into (this matchup with LSU), but we also understand that the same attention to preparation will have to even be heightened more going into that environment and playing in there against such an athletic, physical and quality football team," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "It's going to be a great, great challenge for us."
LSU was absent from the polls for a few weeks following a pair of tough losses to top-five teams - losing at home to Mississippi State on Sept. 20 (34-29) and at Auburn on Oct. 4 (41-7) - but it returned to the likes of the nationally ranked by winning two straight to improve to 6-2. The Tigers dominated Kentucky on their home field last Saturday with a 41-3 triumph.
"Defensively, (Ole Miss is) as good of a group as we will face," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We will have enthusiasm and enjoyment for preparation. This will be a great opportunity to improve and play against a quality opponent."
LSU holds a 58-40-4 advantage over Ole Miss in the all-time series. The Tigers had claimed three straight in the series before the Rebels won in Oxford last season, 27-24.
When held to the lofty standards of the SEC, Ole Miss' offense ranks middle of the road, placing seventh in both scoring and yardage, but those numbers (35.4 ppg, 433.3 ypg) are still plenty impressive.
The leader under center is Bo Wallace, who throws for more than 270 yards per game on 65.6 percent completions, while accounting for 19 touchdowns. He's only thrown six interceptions, and three of those came in the season opener.
Wallace has plenty of trustworthy receivers to rely on. Laquon Treadwell is the team leader in catches (34) and yards (458) and has scored four touchdowns. Vince Sanders (26 receptions, 424 yards) and Cody Core (22 receptions, 345 yards) also have four touchdowns, and Evan Engram (19 receptions, 292 yards, TD) has been solid as well.
Jaylen Walton has emerged as the top option coming out of the backfield with 347 yards and four scores on 59 carries (5.9 ypc), but the team as a whole hasn't been too efficient running the ball, averaging less than four yards per carry.
While the offense has impressed, the Rebels wouldn't be where they are today without their elite defense. The unit is the nation's best in terms of points allowed (10.6 ppg) and ranks eighth in total defense (290.6 ypg).
The team ranks third in the FBS in turnovers gained (20) thanks largely to the efforts of cornerback Senquez Golson, who has seven interceptions despite missing two games in September.
"I can't say I always expected that he would reach (his potential), until fall camp this year when I saw he had really bought in," Freeze said of Golson. "He's always had the talent and the athletic ability. It's really not surprising that he's playing this well."
Marquis Hayes has caused havoc up front with 6.5 TFL and three forced fumbles. Other defensive standouts include Tony Conner (42 tackles, 4.5 TFL, INT), Mike Hilton (37 tackles, two INTs) and Cody Prewitt (35 tackles, 3.5 TFL, two INTs).
As for LSU, its offense has also been stellar this season with 35.6 ppg and 415.6 ypg, despite its lack of identity under center.
Miles uses a two-quarterback system and has rolled with the hot hand depending on the situation. Anthony Jennings played most of the Kentucky game but had just 120 passing yards and a touchdown on 7-of-14 passing. Jennings' numbers this season have been modest at best (.500 completions, 1,048 yards, seven TDs, three INTs), and Brandon Harris (.566, 452 passing yards, six TDs, two INTs, 152 rushing yards, three TDs) is still very much in the mix.
Leonard Fournette is in the midst of a great freshman campaign with 544 yards and seven touchdowns on 108 carries. Terrence Magee (57 carries, 344 yards, three TDs) had his hand in several facets of the Kentucky game with 220 all- purpose yards and two touchdowns.
Travin Dural (26 receptions, 655 yards, seven TDs) is one of the nation's best big-play receivers, with his 25.6 yards-per-catch average ranking first in the nation among players with at least 20 receptions.
LSU's defense may not be as stout as Ole Miss', but it has played well nonetheless (17.0 ppg, 318.8 ypg). The unit dominated in the blowout win over Kentucky by allowing just 217 yards.
The balanced defense is anchored by Kwon Alexander (49 tackles, 3.5 TFL, two FF), Danielle Hunter (46 tackles, 8.0 TFL, sacks, FF), Ronald Martin (43 tackles, INT, FF) and Kendell Beckwith (41 tackles, 1.5 sacks, INT). Eleven players have at least 20 tackles and 19 have double-digit stops.
During the Miles era of Tiger football, the squad has been nearly unbeatable in night games at home (45-4), but it proved vulnerable earlier this season with a loss at Tiger Stadium to Mississippi State. While LSU has a great running game to attack the Ole Miss defense, its young, erratic quarterbacks will be in for a long night against the fierce unit. If Wallace can lead the offense on just a couple of touchdown drives, the Rebels' undefeated season should remain intact.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ole Miss 23, LSU 17