OXFORD • For Ole Miss, the journey to the end zone against No. 1 LSU will likely require success at a season-long trouble spot.
The big play in the passing game.
It’s been a different philosophy this season for the Rebels, who have two receivers and a tight end from last year’s team on NFL rosters right now.
Ole Miss has run the ball almost 63 percent of the time on 747 plays this season.
Rebels coach Matt Luke doesn’t want to change that approach but wants to see the passing game improve field position and take pressure off the run.
“When people have hurt them in the passing game it’s been making plays one-on-one down the field,” Luke said. “That will be huge for us, and we’ll have to make a couple of those.”
A couple is basically all the Rebels have accomplished through 10 games. Ole Miss has just three pass plays of more than 40 yards compared to 20 such plays last season.
LSU is No. 11 in the SEC, No. 37 nationally in team pass defense efficiency with a 122.13 opponent passer rating.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa passed for 418 yards and four touchdowns on 21 completions over 40 attempts.
Eight of those completions were for 20-plus yards. One went for 85 yards to Devonta Smith to keep Alabama five points back with 1 minute, 21 seconds remaining. The Crimson Tide were unable to recover the on-side kick.
“They’ve got some really good dudes. You look at Alabama, and there’s no way they’re not going to throw the ball well,” Ole Miss offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez said.
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger had touchdown passes of 55 and 44 yards against LSU in Week 2.
Luke and Rodriguez have spoken earlier this season about the need for the Rebels’ rebuilding wide receivers to make plays against man coverage.
Ole Miss added four freshmen and a junior college transfer at the position, but it’s been the veterans – sophomore Elijah Moore and, when healthy, junior Braylon Sanders – who have had the most success.
Moore, the starting slot receiver, has 55 catches, four of them for touchdowns.
Sanders has only eight catches but is averaging 17.3 yards per catch. He has a 40-yard reception and in recent weeks has had three apparent downfield catches negated by video replay or penalty.
After Moore, the receiver with the most catches is Dontario Drummond with 11.
Rodriguez says the wideouts have shown improvement, behind the scenes perhaps, and he has confidence in them.
“We can throw it. That’s the encouraging part. We’ve seen signs of it both in games and in practice that we’re going to get better with that.”
He expects LSU to work to force Ole Miss to use its passing game. The Rebels haven’t thrown a touchdown pass in their last three games and have just two in the last five.
“They’ll watch the film and say, ‘These guys (in the run game use) the inside zone a whole bunch.’ I think 19 of our last 20 plays in the last game were some version of the inside zone. They’re really good against it,” Rodriguez said.