BATON ROUGE – Tennessee’s slaying of Alabama, the wicked witch of the West, has opened up the Southeastern Conference West – ding dong. Now, all an overnight SEC West contender like LSU has to do is follow the yellow brick road.
The Tigers (5-2, 3-1 SEC) control their own standings, if you will. If the Tigers win out in the league, they will finish 7-1 and get to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game as West champions. That would be with tiebreaker wins over first place Ole Miss and Alabama, which are currently 7-0 and 3-0 and 6-1 and 3-1, respectively.
LSU hosts No. 7 Ole Miss at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS.
After an open week, the Tigers play at Alabama on Nov. 5. The No. 6 Crimson Tide hosts No. 24 Mississippi State (5-2, 2-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.
LSU coach Brian Kelly, though, is not talking Oz just yet.
“No, we won’t talk about tying for the West,” he said Monday. “I think it’s too early to talk in terms of that. I think there is just too much football left to be played. What we’re going to talk about is how we play better at home in front of our fans against a top 10 team.”
No. 3 Tennessee (6-0, 3-0 SEC East) dominated LSU, 40-13, in Tiger Stadium on Oct. 8 before the Tigers recovered to win 45-35 at Florida.
“Our focus will be on ourselves more so than what that means,” Kelly said. “Then we get a week off to kind of assess. Then we’ll kind of put the next four weeks in perspective and maybe start to talk about it from that sense.”
What’s Ahead For SEC West Contender LSU
After Ole Miss and Alabama, LSU closes with two SEC West teams it is ahead of in the standings on the road – Arkansas (4-3, 1-3) on Nov. 12 and Texas A&M (3-3, 1-2) on Nov. 26 in the regular season finale. The Tigers play a non-conference home game on Nov. 19 against Alabama-Birmingham.
Ole Miss also controls its destiny and has been dominating its opponents with its offense, something Kelly is wary of after Tennessee slashed LSU defensive coordinator Matt House’s unit with 502 yards, including 263 on the ground.
The Rebels are No. 4 in the SEC and 14th in the nation in total offense with 504 yards a game and No. 4 in the league and No. 15 in the nation in scoring with 41 points a game.
“He’s a creative coach offensively, and they always have been cutting edge in terms of what they do,” Kelly said. “Offensively, there is always an answer to what you do in-game as well.”
As Notre Dame’s head coach, Kelly went against Kiffin as USC’s head coach three times, winning 20-16 in 2010, losing 31-17 in 2011 and winning 22-13 in 2012.
Known as a progressive, pass happy coach, Kiffin also has one of the nation’s best running games as he did last season. The Rebels are No. 1 in the SEC and third nationally in rushing with 271 yards a game. Tailback Quinshon Judkins is No. 2 in the SEC and 11th nationally in rushing with 720 yards.
“It’s perimeter based,” Kelly said. “The ball is a trying to get out on the perimeter, but you now have a quarterback that, if you’re spreading yourself thin on the perimeter, he strikes down the heart of our defense. And then they have a great play-action game.”
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Jaxson Dart, a sophomore transfer from USC, is just seventh in the SEC and 43rd nationally in efficiency on 100-of-163 passing for 1,488 yards and 11 touchdowns with six interceptions, but he has rushed 53 times for 371 net yards. Senior wide receiver Jonathan Mingo has caught 22 passes for 507 yards and three touchdowns.
“I mean, he’s a beautiful thrower,” Kelly said of Dart. “This kid has the ability to drop back 50 times if they wanted to and throw the football. But he is also athletic enough and can run that they’ve put him in a system where he becomes a dual threat. That’s what Lane does well. He’s going to set his offense based upon who the player is. It’s not about plays, it’s about players for him, and he changes based upon who he has.”
Kiffin also scouts very well. After Ole Miss beat LSU 31-17 with 266 rushing yards last October 23, he spoke with his buddy and then-LSU coach Ed Orgeron about his defense. They had coached together at USC twice and at Tennessee.
“Coach, you know you’re playing the same thing all the time,” Orgeron said Kiffin told him after that game.
“They scout you out,” Kelly said. “I mean, you better know your own self-scouting and where your tendencies are, because he’s going to really dial in. He is going to analyze that and have an answer for it.”
Ole Miss Control Their Destiny
After LSU, Ole Miss plays at Texas A&M on Oct. 29 before an open date. On Nov. 12, Ole Miss hosts Alabama in a game that could decide the SEC West. Then the Rebels play at Arkansas on Nov. 19 and host Mississippi State on Thanksgiving.
Kiffin, who tweeted for a doubleheader sweep of Auburn and Alabama by Ole Miss and Tennessee last week and got it, watched most of Tennessee’s win over Alabama. Then he tweeted again just before Chase McGrath’s 40-yard field goal that won it 52-49 as time ran out.
That was in reference to Tennessee’s Daniel Lincoln lining up for the game-winning, 44-yard field goal against Alabama in 2009 with :04 remaining when he was the Vols’ head coach. The kick was blocked, though, by Alabama’s Terrence Cody to preserve a 12-10 win – the closest Tennesse came to a win over Alabama from 2007 through 2021.
Amazingly, Alabama’s Byron Young partially blocked McGrath’s kick, but it fluttered through anyway.
“I sent a tweet as they were lining up for the field goal,” Kiffin said Monday. “And the guy (Byron Young) did jump through to block it, so it was kind of eerie there.”
Then he watched McGrath put Ole Miss in first place alone in the SEC West.
“Exciting game. That’s football,” Kiffin said. “That game goes either way, just like we get in those games like Kentucky. It’s just always kind of funny for me to see fans and everybody, when a game could go either way, one side misses a kick and one makes it, and the whole world has changed.”
Particularly for LSU and Ole Miss.