The consensus in Las Vegas has Ole Miss running away from the Ragin' Cajuns on Saturday morning in Oxford. They will likely do just that. Bill Connelly has the Rebels as nearly 11 point favorites, and they’re predicted to score nearly 40 points against an overmatched Sun Belt team. But let's assume that morning turns to afternoon and Ole Miss can't seem to get off the field on third down. Louisiana hangs around and is within a field goal entering the fourth quarter.
How did we get here?
Louisiana (4-4 and 3-2 in Sun Belt) is coming off of a 19-14 win at South Alabama. Their offensive production seems mediocre, especially on the heels of a 47-3 loss in Jonesboro to Arkansas State. Consider, however, that the Cajuns might have found their answer at quarterback in last week's road victory. Levi Lewis was 8-15 passing for 115 yards, but it's on the ground where he caused the most damage.
Lewis ran the ball 18 times for 129 yards, including two carries of 32 yards each. Lewis' ability to scramble and extend the play with his feet should worry Rebel fans, as he accounted for 5 first downs on the ground last week.
The Ragin' Cajuns rank 33rd in the country in rushing isoPPP, a statistic that measures how explosive plays are when they become successful. Louisiana ranks just 58th in success rate, meaning their rushes are often stopped for a short gain or a loss, but when they are successful these runs tend to gain big chunks of yards.
This was never more evident than last week when the Cajuns rushed 8 times for more than 10 yards. Benny Snell and Co. only had six such gains, and Arkansas only had seven, with two coming on that 12 play drive to crush the Rebels yet again.
How do we get back?
The duo of Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell, a pair of bowling balls each at 5'11 and both weighing above 220 pounds, combined to average 110 yards per game on the ground. Add a lightning-quick quarterback to that thunder combo in the backfield and the Rebel defense could find itself wearing down as the game progresses.
Ole Miss ranks in the bottom twenty in both rushing success rate and isoPPP on defense. Not only are teams more successful running the ball on this defense, when they do they tend to pick up yardage in chunks.
If Louisiana is able to find some success early and keep the game close, things may come down to the offense sustaining some drives and letting the defense catch their breath. The key for Ole Miss will be to take advantage of an offensive line that lets their runners get tackled behind the line far too often.
If Ole Miss can do this, and they really haven't all year, then they will put pressure on a true freshman quarterback's arm in only his second start.