Thursday, November 20, 2008

Crossing Paths

Ole Miss at LSU
SEC Game of the Week
November 22nd at 3:30 ET CBS
(originally published in Game Day Weekly 11.17.08)

The last time teams coached by Les Miles and Houston Nutt crossed paths, the results were dynamic.

On and off the field.

On the field, Nutt coached his Arkansas Razorbacks to a triple-overtime 50-48 stunner over Miles and the No. 1 ranked Bengal Tigers on the day after Thanksgiving. The loss appeared to knock LSU out of the national championship race, but a West Virginia loss to Pitt the next week reopened that door and LSU took advantage by whipping Ohio State for the title.

Off the field, even more drama took place.

That game turned out to be Houston Nutt’s last as head Hog. He was shown the door at Arkansas after ten seasons and three SEC West division crowns, resigning amidst a swelling unrest among Razorback backers (or at least a vocal and influential group of them).

For a week, the game looked like it might be the last for Les Miles in Baton Rouge too.

Hours prior to the SEC Championship game, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit reported that Miles would take the Michigan job (Miles’ alma mater), replacing the retiring Lloyd Carr. Miles called a hasty, brief (and strange) press conference the day of the title game to dispute the claim and announce he was staying at LSU.

Had that rumor not broken that day?

Who knows, but it seems there was substantial interest from Michigan and Miles about him returning home to Ann Arbor. At any rate, he stayed and his team won a national title a few weeks later, a game probably made even sweeter to Miles because it was against Ohio State … Michigan’s arch-rival.

Whether Nutt was forced to leave or Miles was forced to stay, things worked out well for everyone.

Miles got the national championship within weeks of staying at LSU and Nutt got the Ole Miss position within minutes of leaving Arkansas (he probably had it before he even resigned).

When their paths cross again this week, nothing as dramatic as jobs or championships will be at stake, but the game is significant.

After starting the season inconsistently (the Rebels first six games read W-L-W-L-W-L), Ole Miss comes to LSU at 6-4 and on a three-game winning streak. The Rebels throw the ball more than was typical for Nutt during his Arkansas days, mainly because QB Jevan Snead is a big-time player, but Ole Miss can move the ball on the ground too. Defensively, the Rebels struggle statistically (next-to-last in the SEC in total defense heading into last Saturday’s game), but they play the run tough – which is LSU’s strength.

As Nutt promised the seniors during his first team meeting, Ole Miss will be going bowling this year for the first time since 2003. A win over LSU might mean the difference between a Music City or Liberty Bowl berth and a potential Cotton Bowl appearance.

For LSU, the comedown from a national championship high has been eventful.

Blowout losses to Florida and Georgia ended any talk of repeating as national champs, and a bitter overtime loss to Alabama (and former LSU coach Nick Saban) two weeks ago closed the door on the conference race as well.

The Tigers must have been feeling the effects of that Bama loss Saturday night because they fell behind Troy 31-3 midway through the third quarter before roaring back with 37 unanswered points on the way to a 40-31 victory. The win was the biggest comeback in LSU history.

Expect plenty of offensive fireworks in this game.

LSU will try to run the ball right at the Rebels with outstanding tailback Charles Scott hoping to take the pressure off inconsistent QB Jarrett Lee.

Ole Miss will try to keep the ball in the hands of Snead and playmakers Dexter McCluster, Shay Hodge, Cordera Eason, and Mike Wallace.

The scoreboard will be moving when these two teams cross paths, but the coaches are not going anywhere.

Game Ball: LSU