GAMEDATE: 10/19/13 SITE: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss. TV: ESPN2 SERIES: Saturday's game will be the 102nd meeting all-time between Ole Miss and LSU with the Tigers leading the series 58-39-4. LSU is 9-6-1 in games played in Oxford. Since the teams started playing for the Magnolia Bowl trophy in 2008, the Tigers hold a 3-2 advantage. AP RANKINGS: LSU No. 6, Mississippi unranked KEYS TO THE GAME LSU has climbed to No. 6 in the Associated Press poll as it moves into the prime-time part of its schedule. The Tigers had to deal with three ranked teams from outside the SEC West -- TCU, Georgia and Florida -- during the first seven weeks of the season and suffered a loss at Georgia three weeks ago. But aside from a nonconference breather against Furman in two weeks, the rest of the season is all about the SEC West. If LSU runs the table -- no easy feat with Ole Miss, Alabama, Texas A&M and Arkansas awaiting -- it will win the West and head to Atlanta for the conference title game. The young defense has gone through growing pains, but appears much improved, and if the Tigers win at Ole Miss on Saturday, they'll head to Tuscaloosa to face No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 9 with their SEC title hopes still in their own hands. "This is what you come to the SEC for," LSU cornerback Jalen Mills said, "this stretch run that we're going on right now. You prepare for this through the offseason and the summertime so we should be ready." LSU is coming off its best defensive performance of the season in a 17-6 victory against Florida last week. Given the way the Tigers have been performing offensively, they shouldn't need much more than solid if unspectacular defense to have a chance to run the table. "The games before, it was just mistakes," linebacker Kwon Alexander said. "We had to fix those mistakes to be one of the great teams." The Tigers have allowed just three field goals in their last six quarters. "Defensively all we've got to do is do what we did this past week the rest of the season and I don't think anybody can beat us," defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said. LSU saw two school-record offensive streaks end against the SEC's No. 1 defense last week -- six straight games with 35 or more points and six straight games with 400 or more yards. In addition to facing the Gators' stingy defense, another factor was that LSU chose to lean on its running game to control a very physical game. "The offense in my opinion did exactly what it needed to do: Controlled the game, moved the football, was smart with the ball and finished the game," Tigers coach Les Miles said. "In the back end of the game, the opponent trying to get the ball back, felt like the right strategy was employed, and we just kept it kind of how it's supposed to go." After a third straight loss, a 41-38 setback to then-No. 9 Texas A&M full of momentum swings and players who had to be helped off the field, the Rebels (3-3, 1-3 SEC) are beat up. Most of the injuries have decimated the Rebels' defense, which could be without as many as five regular starters when the Tigers come to town. Super freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche (hamstring), cornerback Mike Hilton (hamstring), defensive tackle Issac Gross (unspecified) and outside linebacker Serderius Bryant (concussion) all left last week's game with ailments. Nkemdiche, who pulled up lame while chasing A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in the second half, has already been ruled out of Saturday's game by head coach Hugh Freeze, leaving the Rebels without both starting defensive ends as C.J. Johnson, who didn't dress out against the Aggies as he continues to nurse a bum ankle, will most likely be held out, too. Linebacker Temario Strong, defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton and rover Chief Brown also suffered injuries, and on offense, backup quarterback Barry Brunetti (throwing shoulder) and running back Jeff Scott (thigh bruise) left the game and didn't return. When Freeze was asked which players may have to sit out this week, it took the coach, who pulled multiple pages of notes from his jacket pocket, a while to rattle off the names. "Almost all of the them. I'm not sure about Barry. I don't know that he injured it any worse than it was," Freeze said. "Hopefully he will be fine. Issac will try to go, I'm sure. I doubt Temario will make it; Robert, no. Serderius, I'm not sure, C.J. probably not, Carlos definitely not and Hilton is doubtful. We've got a challenge ahead of us." But with half the season remaining in the nation's toughest conference, the Rebels know they don't have time to feel sorry for themselves. "We just have to keep fighting," quarterback Bo Wallace. "I've always said that's why you come to schools like this is to play in games like that against teams like that, so we can't really make excuses of we've played tough teams or things like that. We just have to play our schedule." A depleted defense isn't a recipe for success going up against a well-rounded LSU offense averaging 41 points per game. The Tigers (6-1, 3-1) feature the SEC's second-leading rusher in tailback Jeremy Hill, the third-leading passer in quarterback Zach Mettenberger and a pair of 600-yard receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. One thing the Rebels do have going for them is that the offense has showed signs of life after getting blanked by the Crimson Tide last month. Ole Miss piled up more than 400 total yards against both Auburn and A&M and scored the third-most points it has in any game this season against the Aggies. The offense will need arguably its best performance to this point Saturday to help out a defense that's hurting. It's a group that's confident after hanging 35 on the Tigers a year ago in Baton Rouge. "We had a pretty good offensive outing against them last year," offensive lineman Emmanuel McCray said. "It's the same defense. They lost a lot of guys, but they're always going to have that talent. That's LSU. We've just got to take advantage of the plays, and that's the biggest reason we kind of let the last (game) slip is that we didn't take advantage of the plays that we needed to make." PLAYERS TO WATCH Tigers --WR/KR Odell Beckham Jr. is No. 2 in the nation with an average of 209.1 all-purpose yards per game. Though he had just two pass receptions against Florida last week, that was primarily because the Tigers leaned on the running game and threw just 17 passes. LSU will open up the offense again against the Rebels and Beckham should be more active. --T La'el Collins protects Zach Mettenberger's blind side and he's coming off one of his best games last week against Florida. The Tigers chose to run right at the Gators' top-rated run defense and Collins helped lead the way as LSU ran for 175 yards. Collins and his line mates should generate more holes against the Rebels suspect defense. --DT Anthony Johnson has played his best football the last two weeks, getting one sack each against Florida and Mississippi State. Improved play from backups Quentin Thomas and Christian LaCouture has allowed Johnson and fellow starter Ego Ferguson to get more breathers and the freshness is showing. --DE Danielle Hunter has played steadily in a rotation with Jermauria Rasco and Jordan Allen, but he took center stage last week by providing a consistent pass rush and batted down two passes. The Tigers will need to pressure Bo Wallace and Hunter's long arms help him be disruptive at the line of scrimmage. Rebels --OLB Serderius Bryant has forced his way into the starting lineup by producing each time out. The junior leads the Rebels with 55 tackles, 20 more than the next closest defender, and finished with 12 tackles against A&M before leaving the game on a stretcher with what's been diagnosed as a concussion. Freeze said Bryant is going through concussion protocol this week, and his status for Saturday is uncertain. --QB Bo Wallace continues to be a driving force for the Ole Miss offense. The junior has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of the last two games to give him 1,444 yards on the season. He's stayed away from turnovers for the most part after throwing 17 interceptions a year ago, but his first three picks have all come in the last two games. --CB Charles Sawyer has had an up-and-down senior campaign. A starter in every game last year, Sawyer looked to be entrenched as one of the starters this season, but the breakout play of sophomore Mike Hilton and an arrest for DUI before the Texas game cost Sawyer his starting spot. But Sawyer may get his first start of the season against LSU with Hilton nursing a hamstring injury. --DE Cameron Whigham thought he was going to get the starting nod for his senior season, but super freshman Robert Nkemdiche got to campus and beat him out for the job. But Nkemdiche is one of three Rebel DEs nursing injuries, and Whigam may be called on to play a bigger role for a depleted defense against a physical LSU offense. With Nkemdiche out, Whigham, who has 18 tackles on the season, is in line to get his third start.
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