Rabalais: Ole Miss is LSU’s last hurdle before Bama showdown

The last hurdle.

Clearing it should be an exercise of mechanics and technique. But many a runner, including LSU’s own Lolo Jones, have come to grief trying to get past that final obstacle.

Just a fraction of an inch off, and the hopes and dreams of a season, of a career, can tumble to the ground.

For the LSU Tigers, Saturday’s Ole Miss game represents the last hurdle in a very real sense.

It’s not the last game. But a win Saturday sets the Tigers on a collision course with Alabama for the now traditional showdown for world domination Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa. Win that one, and LSU gets two weeks to prepare for yet another big blockbuster with Texas A&M on Nov. 23.

With apologies to Furman and Arkansas, those are just games to be played. Neither team represents the challenge, the threat to LSU that are Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M.

For the Tigers, this is the EON game. Everything Or Nothing. That was the risk/reward name the James Bond film producers gave to their company when they were trying to get the fledgling movie series off the ground back in the early 1960s.

Talk about a dynasty.

After that heartbreaking three-point loss at Georgia, LSU is shaken not stirred. Like Bond, the Tigers are still looking great in a tailored tux despite just engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a lethal baddie from Spectre.

Three weeks after that loss, the Tigers are right back where they were then at No. 6 in the AP poll. LSU is top of the charts among college football’s one-loss teams, an important bullet point on the BCS résumé.

Considering that No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Florida State square off in a huge showdown Saturday night as well, there’s a strong possibility that with a win LSU could find itself in the top five of the first BCS rankings when they’re released Sunday.

But fall victim to the Rebels, and the Tigers can forget about title aspirations and championship ambitions. Lose and LSU is just playing for records and rankings, the nicest and warmest place the Tigers can find to bowl.

Going into the season, the Ole Miss game for LSU looked like a trap slipped neatly between Florida and Alabama like a state trooper lurking on the state line doing sobriety checks outside the Flora-Bama Lounge.

That was before the injury bug descended on the Ole Miss football team like the seasonal flu. The Rebels have so many wounded you can picture Hawkeye Pierce picking his way down the Ole Miss sideline on Saturday night doing triage.

The Rebels landed the nation’s top recruiting class in April, but the Ole Miss talent pool is still a mile wide and about three inches deep. The Rebels aren’t yet built to sustain a heavy storm of injuries. As things are, if you venture to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday night and wander too close to the Ole Miss bench, someone may slap a set of shoulder pads on you and send you out into the fray (“Hey, new guy, go try to tackle J.C. Copeland or Jeremy Hill.”).

But Ole Miss has enough talent to take down the Tigers if they are caught peeking around the corner toward Alabama. Bo Wallace, Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell form almost as potent a passing combination as do Zach Mettenberger, Jarvis Landry and Odell “New Mr. 89-yard punt return” Beckham Jr.

Something tells me though that LSU won’t be filling the night sky over Oxford with an aerial assault. If the Tigers could net 175 yards rushing against Florida last week — still the top rushing defense in the Southeastern Conference allowing 83.3 yards per game — then they can ground and pound against the Rebels, who are surrendering 186.7.

I’ll make you a prediction right now: If Jeremy Hill can break off two runs in the 50-yard range, he’ll rush for 200 on the game.

Running down the Rebels serves the dual purpose of keeping the ball away from the offensive firm of Wallace, Moncrief and Treadwell. Considering the Oxford Incident that was LSU’s clock mismanagement at the end of the 2009 game there, intentionally burning time off seems to be more appealing all the time.

The Tigers clear the Ole Miss hurdle with room to spare if they take care of the ball and keep their mind on their business. They should know well enough from three of the past four Ole Miss games being decided by a touchdown or less that if they lose concentration against this team, the could lose it all.