Ole Miss out to finish at LSU’s Death Valley

The Sports Xchange

October 21, 2014 at 3:15 pm.

Bo Wallace and No. 3 Ole Miss head out on the road again in Week Nine. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Ole Miss is in the midst of one of the best seasons in school history, enjoying its first 7-0 start since 1962 and a No. 3 national ranking.

A win over LSU in Tiger Stadium would make things even sweeter.

The Rebels (7-0, 4-0 SEC) will travel to Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday for a night game at Death Valley against the No. 24-ranked Tigers. Ole Miss hasn’t beaten the Tigers on their own turf since 2008, and the latest of those setbacks was a bitter pill to swallow.

Coach Hugh Freeze took a team low on depth and talent to Baton Rouge his first year at the helm at Ole Miss to take on a top-10 LSU squad. The Rebels played one of their best games of the season, leading by a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

“We were playing really well,” Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace recalls. “We were young and didn’t really know what we were doing. We were playing as hard as we could.”

But Odell Beckham Jr. returned a punt for a touchdown to draw the Tigers even, and Jeremy Hill’s touchdown run with 15 seconds left allowed LSU to escape with a 41-35 victory.

It was Ole Miss’ 19th SEC loss in its last 21 games, but at least for a day, it gave the Rebels some hope.

“At that point, you would say that was a moral victory, to have a chance to win against a quality team,” Freeze said. “I’m sure they were top 10 at that time, and we go down there in Year 1 and compete. … Obviously we did not pull it off, but it was a lot of fun that day.”

But the Rebels have no ideas of winning anywhere but on the scoreboard this time.

With games against No. 5 Auburn and top-ranked Mississippi State still on the schedule, Ole Miss controls its own destiny to a Western Division title and its first-ever SEC Championship Game appearance.

It starts with trying to avenge that loss to the Tigers two years ago.

“We let one go,” cornerback Mike Hilton said, “but we’re excited where we’re at now.”

Said Freeze, “We don’t talk about going to play somebody close right now.”

Stopping the Tigers starts with slowing down a running game the Tigers have relied upon heavily to help out quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. Kenny Hilliard, Terrence Magee and Leonard Fournette have shared the workload, but Fournette, the nation’s top prep prospect in last year’s recruiting cycle, has been the featured back as of late.

Fournette has combined for 180 yards on 42 carries in wins over Florida and Kentucky. The Tigers have piled up 498 rushing yards as a team in those two games. Ole Miss is preparing to see more of the same Saturday.

“They’re getting back to their running downhill (style) and just outphysical,” Hilton said. “They’ve got the backs to do it. Their smallest back is around 215, 220, so I know they’re going to try to make us tackle. We’re ready for it.”