Pick 6: Q and A with an opposing beat reporter

We used to call Hugh Kellenberger a co-worker. Now, he’s THE ENEMY.

No, not really. Hugh covers Ole Miss for The Clarion-Ledger, and he’s been nice enough to join his old co-worker for our Pick 6 on the surging Rebels.

Ole Miss upset Alabama earlier this season and then proceeded to attack its goal posts. (Clarion-Ledger)

Ole Miss upset Alabama earlier this season and then proceeded to attack its goal posts. (Clarion-Ledger)

You can follow Hugh on Twitter at @HKellenbergerCL and read his work here.

1. Ole Miss enters this game 7-0 for the first time since 1962 and No. 3 nationally. What’s the feeling/environment like in Oxford these days?

It’s a tad difficult to explain, but I’ll give it my best shot.

People aren’t running through the streets with goal posts the way they were after Alabama, if that’s what you’re asking. That was three weeks ago, and time goes on and people settle back into their routine. But people are talking about Ole Miss more, it seems, and doing so in this very proud way.

Mississippians get used to being told how we’re last in everything good (like education) and first in everything bad (like obesity). And then you have something come along like this, which was very much unexpected (the team was supposed to be this good, but few thought THIS good), and I think people who would not know Bo Wallace from Bo Derek normally can take a measure of pride in something happening that reflects well on this state and its people.

2. What does LSU need to do to turn Good Bo (Wallace) into Bad Bo?

Score. Score early. Ole Miss has settled into a nice routine over the last month or so: let the offense find its way into the game while the defense keeps the thing close by being its usual dominating self.

The A&M game was a bit different because Ole Miss got up 21-0 in the first quarter and then settled in to a conservative gameplan. Bo Wallace has said a couple of times that his mindset has changed: he doesn’t have to be the playmaker, because the defense is.

Can LSU force Bad Bo to emerge? (Clarion-Ledger)

Can LSU force Bad Bo to emerge? (Clarion-Ledger)

Getting up on Ole Miss in a significant way maybe forces Wallace to take some chances, and that’s when interceptions comes.

3. What’s the weak point – if there is one – in this Ole Miss defense?

For a while everyone considered it to be the run defense: Vanderbilt ran the ball a little bit on the Rebels, and ULL had nearly 200 yards rushing against Ole Miss. But short of one series against Alabama (which was entirely behind its left tackle, and in a hurry-up that did not allow for Ole Miss to change the way it was defending the run mid-series) the run defense has really stiffened up.

Tennessee had zero rushing yards last Saturday, and Texas A&M’s running game averaged less than two yards a carry. I would still say the weakness, if there is one, is downhill running. I’m just not as convinced of that as I was a month ago.

4. What’s the latest on former LSU QB signee Jeremy Liggins? What’s his role on the team and can we be expected to see him Saturday?

He’s doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Ole Miss created a heavy formation package for Liggins, which is really something: it’s six offensive linemen, a former defensive tackle playing tight end, a regular tight end, the heaviest running back and Liggins. I counted it up once and it was 3,100 pounds on the field.

Jeremy Liggins once committed to LSU from the Oxford Square. He never enrolled at LSU. (Clarion-Ledger)

Jeremy Liggins once committed to LSU from the Oxford Square. He never enrolled at LSU. (Clarion-Ledger)

Ole Miss has usually just run a QB power play out of it on third-and-short, but when it stopped working (teams loaded up against it) Ole Miss ran a sweep out of it to the back and got some yards.

The rest of the time Liggins is lining up as a tight end, where he hasn’t caught a pass yet but has stood out as the team’s best blocker. They’ll pull him through the gaps and the way he attacks guys you’d never think he was a high school quarterback.

5. Much is being made about the Ole Miss secondary. Why are they so good?

About half of it is talent: Tony Conner was the best player in the state of Mississippi in 2013 (and maybe one of the best ever to play in the Magnolia State), Cody Prewitt is an All-American and Trae Elston and Senquez Golson were both prep All-Americans.

The other half of it is just those guys really wanting it, and having strong football IQs. I didn’t mention Mike Hilton above, and that’s because he was a 5-foot-8 fringe prospect that Hugh Freeze held onto in his first recruiting class and has become defensive coordinator Dave Wommack’s favorite player.

He’s played four different positions in his career, and is starting at corner right now. Prewitt wasn’t that highly-thought of, but again it’s about football IQ and he’ll hit anything that moves.

Conner can play a lot of different roles against the run and pass during the course of a game, and Elston and Golson are both playing the best football of their careers. Going to a more attacking press man coverage has helped, but Ole Miss has not exclusively played that scheme. There’s no magic beans: just good football players who want to be great.

6. What’s the one thing Ole Miss must do well in this game to win?

They need to force this game into Anthony Jennings’ hands. I think if you’re Ole Miss you figure you’re going to score enough points, because you have all season. The special teams, especially punting, have been good, so you probably think you’re fine there.

You want to load up against the run and get into third-and-long situations where you can rush four, drop seven and make Jennings beat you. That happens and Ole Miss would like its chances, I’d bet.