Tigers take another crack at a Top 10 win, hosting No. 7 Ole Miss

BACK IN THE BACKFIELD:  LSU running back Armoni Goodwin (22), shown scoring against New Mexico, returns from injury today for the Tigers. (Photo by PETER FOREST, Journal Sports)

By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports

BATON ROUGE – LSU coach Brian Kelly scratched off another week through his first SEC gauntlet after last week’s 45-35 win at Florida, but there’s been a short celebration for the Tigers.

Despite the rebound at The Swamp after getting blown out 40-13 at home by now-No. 3 Tennessee the week before, Kelly knows that today’s 2:37 kickoff against No. 7 Ole Miss at Tiger Stadium is another chance for the Tigers to make a statement on the national stage and claim a share of the lead in the Southeastern Conference West Division.

“We turn the page on Florida, and go right back to work on another SEC opponent that’s nationally ranked,” Kelly said. “I think when you play a nationally-ranked team, it gets your attention right away, and you don’t think about what happened the previous week because you have such a good team coming into Tiger Stadium.”

The Rebels are certainly a good team, especially on offense. LSU has faced a few high-powered offenses in Tennessee and Mississippi State, but Lane Kiffin’s spread offense brings a new challenge: a three-headed rushing attack that ranks third in the nation in yards-per-game with 271, and is tied for first with 24 rushing touchdowns. Kiffin utilizes a pair of versatile running backs in TCU-transfer Zach Evans and true freshman Quinshon Judkins, who have combined for 1,325 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.

Don’t forget Jaxson Dart, a dual threat quarterback who’s added 371 yards on 50 totes this season. Dart’s ability to stretch defenses from sideline to sideline with his legs allows Kiffin to mix-and-match play designs from week to week.

“There’s a lot of versatility, it’s very creative,” Kelly said about the Rebels’ offense. “If you look at it, they clearly have the ability to run the football and push the ball down the field. The quarterback is a dual threat, he can run it, he can throw it. You can’t take away everything, so you have to be sound defensively. This is going to be about how we tackle, especially on the perimeter. I think that’s going to be a big part of how we slow them down.”

The Tigers faced a similar spread offense against Tennessee two weeks ago, limiting the amount of playing time freshman edge rusher Harold Perkins saw due to a bad scheme fit. That won’t be the case against Ole Miss, according to Kelly, after Kelly and defensive coordinator Matt House crafted a scheme that would see both Perkins and fellow edge rusher BJ Ojulari on the field at the same time.

“We’ve got to get him on the field in some fashion,” Kelly said about Perkins. “But do you take BJ Ojulari off the field in place of Harold? We’ve got to be creative in finding ways to get him on the field. Do you take the nickel off the field? We’re not changing him to the insider linebacker position, the reads are too much for him at this point. We’re going to be creative.”

LSU’s run game will get a boost too, after Kelly told reporters Thursday that running back Armoni Goodwin would make his return from a hamstring issue that sidelined him the last three weeks. Kelly also said wide receiver Jack Bech was considered “day-to-day” with a back injury on Tuesday. It remains to be seen if he’ll be available for today’s game.

The Rebels have only played two road games, a 42-0 blowout of Georgia Tech in Week 3, and a 52-28 win over Vanderbilt in Week 6.

Despite the afternoon kickoff, the atmosphere that Tiger Stadium provides poses a serious new challenge to the Rebels, something that Kiffin acknowledged.

“I think we’ve played really well on the road, (but) obviously this is a different animal from the first two places that we played,” Kiffin said. “No disrespect to those places, but this will be a real atmosphere with crowd noise for our guys to go into. That’s one of the challenges to just staying focused and doing things really well. It’ll be very challenging.”

Contact Ryne at rgberthelot@gmail.com