The Ole Miss football team’s blowout victory over the winless New Mexico State Aggies on Saturday was a welcome sight after three straight SEC losses, but celebrations this week will run short as they shift their focus to the top-ranked offensive LSU juggernaut.
LSU has been among the biggest surprises of the season on the offensive side of the ball. Traditionally a run-heavy attack with old-school philosophies, the Tigers have brought their playbook into the 21st century with the help of Joe Burrow and a handful of extremely talented receivers.
“This is why you coach. This is why you play, to be in games like this,” head coach Matt Luke said in a Monday press conference. “When you coach in the Southeastern Conference and play in this league, this is why you do it. We’ve played several top-10 teams this season and played well against them. I’m just excited about the opportunity and for our fan base.”
Not only do the Tigers have the most balanced team in recent memory, they are also the most tested team in the nation with wins this season over Texas, Florida Auburn and not to mention their convincing victory in Tuscaloosa last weekend.
The key in all of those wins was the LSU offense, revolutionized by passing game coordinator Joe Brady. Brady spent a season as an offensive assistant under Sean Payton with the New Orleans Saints before moving to Baton Rouge before this season.
Brady brought components of the Saints’ pass-happy offense to LSU’s playbook and sprouted one of the most dynamic systems in college football. The Tigers average 379.3 passing yards per game, only behind an air-raid Washington State offense that has had 148 more pass attempts this season. The Tigers are also among the most efficient passing attacks in the nation with a 77.1% completion rate and a 10.4 average yards per completion.
“We’ll have our work cut out for us. We’ve got to find ways to slow them down and bow our neck in the red zone (and) try to hold them to field goals,” Luke said. “You can’t totally shut these guys down; you try to find ways to slow them down and make it a four-quarter game.”
Leading the explosive offense is quarterback Joe Burrow, an Ohio State transfer who arrived in Baton Rouge last year. Burrow has since separated himself as a Heisman trophy favorite, especially after his performance in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.
Burrow is currently second in the nation with 3,198 passing yards with 33 touchdowns and 4 interceptions on 78.9% completion rate. He’ll look to pick on an Ole Miss secondary that has been a weak spot on an improving defense.
“The thing that makes Burrow so special is (that) he’s kind of like Tua (Tagovailoa). He throws the ball really well in tight windows and is able to be very accurate,” defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre said.
Burrow’s supporting cast has been just as impressive in its undefeated season. Receivers Justin Jefferson and Ja’marr Chase have combined for 1,787 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns.
MacIntyre was also complimentary of tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who has been an underrated asset for the Tigers this year. The 5-foot-8 Baton Rouge native tallied 103 rushing yards and three touchdowns with 20 carries to help put away the game against Alabama.
“Clyde is an excellent runner. He makes a lot of people miss. He’s really compact, really quick. He really makes them go,” MacIntyre said. “When they run their dive read, he’s able to hit and jump cut really well. He’s able to make the linebacker miss in the hole quite often, and then when he gets in the open field, he makes the safeties miss.”
The Rebel defense will need four quarters of perfect execution on every level to slow down the LSU attack on Saturday when the Tigers visit Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.