Friday, November 16, 2012
Identity found, Tigers look toward bowl
By Gary Laney
BATON ROUGE, La. -- A few days after his LSU team beat Mississippi State 37-17, a game in which the offense scored on seven of 10 possessions, LSU coach Les Miles declared, "This is us."
The Tigers offense is clicking. The defense is its dominant self, save some issues defending two-minute offense. It's a shame there isn't an eight-team playoff in college football because if there were, Baton Rouge would be buzzing about must-win games against Ole Miss and Arkansas and how much damage the LSU could do if it got in the playoffs.
Alas, college football still lacks any kind of playoff, at least for a couple more seasons. So instead, No. 7 LSU (8-2, 4-2 in the SEC) plays its last home game Saturday against the 5-5 Rebels hoping to continue its recent offensive rebirth, thus becoming a foe that the teams in the BCS Championship Game are glad they don't have to play.
Jarvis Landry has emerged as LSU's No. 1 wide receiver and has 40 catches for 401 yards with three touchdowns this season.
It might not be much of a consolation, considering that earning that distinction might come with something like a Chick-fil-A Bowl invitation (although, it should be pointed out, the Fiesta Bowl is probably at least as much of a possibility as the Chick-fil-A). But hey, at least we're a couple of years away from a four-team playoff. If there was one now, LSU fans could dream up scenarios in which they could move into the BCS top four, and that would also be fun.
For now, a chance at 10 wins and a good bowl will have to do.
Three Rebels to Watch
1. LB Denzel Nkemdiche: While most knowledgeable fans think of him as the brother of the nation's No. 1 recruit, Robert Ndemdiche, the older brother, just a freshman, has become a pretty good college football player in his own right. He leads Ole Miss in tackles for loss (11.5) and is second in tackles (66) and sacks (3). He also has two interceptions and has forced a fumble.
2. QB Bo Wallace: Ole Miss can triple its win total from last year, and a big reason is the junior college transfer who not only can beat teams with his arm (2,239 yards, 12 touchdowns), he also brings a runner's element (269 yards, 6 TDs). He's not exactly Johnny Manziel, but he can extend plays and make things happen. For an underdog, that might be needed.
3. WR Donte Moncrief: The Rebels' leading receiver (47 receptions, 614 yards and five touchdowns) may have a chance to make plays against an LSU secondary that gave up 298 yards passing to Mississippi State last week after allowing Alabama to drive 71 yards in a two-minute drill to score a winning touchdown.
Three Tigers to watch
1. WR Jarvis Landry: Since the bye week, he's emerged as LSU's go-to receiver. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has thrown to him 20 times, completing 17 for 185 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games, according to ESPN Stats and Information. In the first four SEC games, Mettenberger was 8-for-19 for 75 yards throwing at Landry.
2. DE Barkevious Mingo: With a quarterback who can extend plays like Wallace, it's good to have defensive linemen who can chase like Mingo, who's second on the Tigers with four sacks and leads the team with 10 quarterback hurries and is the Tigers' fastest end
3. WR Russell Shepard: In the last two weeks, LSU has tried to work Shepard into the game plan, giving him snaps at receiver and running back. He's joined Michael Ford as one of the Tigers' "fast" options at running back and might still be able to make plays in the passing game.
Mettenberger vs. the Ole Miss secondary: Even if Mettenberger didn't go through a meek-to-mighty transformation during LSU's bye week, the stretch run still would have been an opportunity for the junior to improve his statistics. After facing a struggling Mississippi State secondary last week, he'll face a suspect Rebels back four (they are 11th in the SEC in pass defense, allowing 243 yards a game and 18 touchdowns). Next week it'll be the league's worst pass defense, Arkansas. Mettenberger comes into the Ole Miss game having thrown for 571 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in two games since the bye week.
By the numbers
46: The number of consecutive offensive possessions LSU has gone without a turnover, a streak that includes three straight games, plus the second half of the Tigers' Oct. 13 win over South Carolina.
109: The number of points scored off turnovers by LSU, second most in the SEC and 14th in the nation, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
25: Turnovers forced by LSU, the most in the SEC.
20: Turnovers committed by Ole Miss, third most in the SEC.