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Ole Miss vs. LSU football 2018: Talking Tigers with And The Valley Shook

We sat down with And The Valley Shoo editor Billy Gomila to preview Saturday’s Magnolia Bowl.

LSU v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

1. I know offensive line health has been an issue for LSU within the past couple of weeks. Where do things stand with that? Are the backups any good? Ole Miss’ defensive line hasn’t been especially good but did find success against an admittedly bad Kent State front. Any chance OM can win the battle of the trenches on that side of the ball?

Based on what we’ve seen to date, I wouldn’t think so. LSU lost senior guard Garrett Brumfield against Tech, but freshman Chasen Hines was able to fill in relatively well. He’s a little iffy on his assignments still, but he’s definitely a people-mover. The right side of the line and center Lloyd Cushenberry remain intact. The big question will be left tackle Saahdiq Charles, who has battled an illness since last week. If he’s in, he’s really good. If he’s not. JUCO signee Badara Traore, who is big but can struggle with technique, will be in his place. He did set the edge well against LA Tech, but the question is how Ole Miss’ defense stacks up to that unit.

2. Joe Burrow hasn’t caused problems for LSU, but he’s also not playing like a quarterback who can take a game over when he needs to. That’s almost certainly not necessary this week, but if some really weird turn of events happens where LSU is down 4 with 2 minutes left in the game, what’s the recipe for success for the LSU offense?

He’s pretty salty on the quick, short passes, and he makes really good decisions -- he’s had a number of throw-aways so far this year when the play wasn’t there. The big key, to me, are the wide receivers stepping up. Jonathan Giles was expected to be the security blanket for this group and he really hasn’t done it so far. After that, you have freshmen and sophomores and big upperclassmen that haven’t done a lot to date. We saw a few of them step up versus Auburn, and 6’6 junior Dee Anderson made some nice plays against LA Tech. But at the moment, I’m not sure I trust them to repeat either.

3. After the Tigers got out to a 24-0 lead against LA Tech, things changed. What went wrong for LSU (outside of an obvious lack of real interest in playing the game)? What was LA Tech able to exploit?

More than anything, LSU got really conservative on defense and seemed oddly content to just let the Bulldogs dink and dunk. But then J’Mar Smith made some big plays on scramble throws and that got Tech some points. They wound up holding the ball for 10 minutes in the third quarter, so that also lowered LSU’s margin for error on offense.

But, come the fourth we did see LSU put the throttle back down on both sides of the ball -- driving for two touchdowns to put the game away and shutting the Tech offense down. With what we’ve seen from the Tigers to date, I think that was a positive step.

4. Many speculated that Ed Orgeron made Steve Ensminger his offensive coordinator because he knew Ensminger would let him meddle in play-calling. Has that theory born itself out, or is Orgeron letting his offensive coaches handle the offense alone? What is Ensminger’s bread and butter?

Honestly, in speaking with folks behind the scenes it’s exactly the opposite. Orgeron has a lot of trust in Ensminger, partially because Ensminger is a tells-it-like-it-is guy. There’s a lot of mutual respect there, without a ton of concern for credit. Which was an issue under Matt Canada. I think a lot of that talk was more the Ghosts of Ole Miss, or people projecting their own feelings on to Orgeron without knowledge.

So far, it’s hard to say we’ve really seen this offense fully formed without a healthy offensive line. But overall, it’s kind of a turned-up version of what we’ve been used to here. There are some spread looks, but also some two-tight groupings for the running game, and some mixed tempo. Overall, I like what I’ve seen to date, and it’s evolved a little to the opponent.

5. What’s your prediction? Give a score and how it gets there.

I think LSU comes out and leans on the run against Ole Miss’ defense early and often, both to move the ball and keep that passing game off the field. The Tiger defense isn’t likely to give up a big passing number two weeks in a row, and the Ole Miss offense sees some tough sledding and falls into a hole.

That said, if the Tiger offense slumps again, Ole Miss is definitely capable of coming back quickly with those receivers. But in the end, I think they pull the strangulation move off well and win by a couple of scores. The difference in the line of scrimmage is too great in this one.