LSU defense will have its hands full in rematch with Ole Miss, Chad Kelly

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU knows what it must do to stop Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). Then again, the Tigers knew it last season, too, and that didn't turn out so well.

That 38-17 road loss still stings for many of the Tigers who were involved.

"If they don't [remember], I'm going to remind them, because I remember it," said LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron, the Tigers' defensive-line coach at the time. "Those guys whooped our tail."

Nobody whooped the Tigers' tails more thoroughly than Kelly, who ran circles around Kevin Steele's defense. Kelly passed for 280 yards and two touchdowns, and when he wasn't making things happen through the air, he was doing it on the ground, adding 81 rushing yards and two more scores.

Because of the substantial margin of victory, it's easy to forget that LSU had rallied from an early 24-0 deficit to trail 24-17 midway through the third quarter. But Kelly slammed the door on the Tigers' comeback bid, capping an 83-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run, then hitting tight end Evan Engram with a 36-yard scoring pass to restore the Rebels' huge lead before the fourth quarter even started.

"[That was] really us getting out of our pass-rushing lane," LSU outside linebacker Arden Key said. "We might have two guys rushing the A-gap, and they didn't know it, so that leaves Chad to step up, and if there's nobody open, then he's going to take it and run."

Kelly did that successfully last week against Arkansas, rushing for a season-high 89 yards and two touchdowns. However, he also committed a couple of costly turnovers in the 34-30 loss, including a fumble when he attempted to run for a first down on the Rebels' final offensive play.

Even if he hasn't matched his production from 2015, when he posted some of the most impressive numbers of any quarterback in SEC history, Kelly still ranks among the conference's most productive signal-callers. He boasts the SEC's best Total Quarterback Rating (79.6) and is also tops in the league in passing yards per game (308.2).

Although the Rebels' leading receiver last season, Laquon Treadwell, left early for the NFL, Kelly still has an impressive collection of pass-catchers at his disposal, led by Engram, who leads the SEC with 590 receiving yards.

"When you go one-on-one, he's going to throw it up, and they're going to go up there and grab it," Orgeron said. "They do a very good job taking what the defense gives him."

And when the defense leaves space for Kelly to run, he's not afraid to take off.

"You look at him, and he's got decent speed, but once you get on the field and you've got to go chase him, he's pretty fast,” Key said.

It's always important for a defensive line to keep a quarterback hemmed in, but it's doubly important when that quarterback has running ability like Kelly's. They knew last season and failed to follow through, but the Tigers realize that limiting Kelly's successful escapes will be a key to defending the Rebels' offense more effectively.

"What we're going to try to do is keep him in the pocket," nose guard Greg Gilmore said. "I think that's the main thing, get push up the middle. We've got great end rushers, and ... I know we want to push the pocket. I think that's the main part, especially with his running ability."

One positive development for LSU's defense ahead of the Ole Miss matchup is that, unlike last season, the Tigers have already faced several offenses that push the tempo, which is also a key feature of Hugh Freeze's attack.

LSU handled Missouri, which ranks among the nation's fastest offenses, on Oct. 1. That game, as well as matchups against spread teams such as Mississippi State, Jacksonville State and Southern Miss, gave Dave Aranda's defense a good idea of what to expect Saturday, both the good and the bad.

"[Missouri was] the fastest team I've ever played," Gilmore said. "I don't know how they do it. The offensive line wasn't breathing hard, and I'm over here breathing hard. I was like, 'Man, I must be out of shape.'"

That said, LSU still surrendered just seven points in that game. If the Tigers come anywhere near that level of dominance against Kelly and Co. on Saturday, Aranda will have more than earned his paycheck.

"For a team like that, a fast team like that who likes to take deep shots, you're only going to get one chance," cornerback Donte Jackson said. "You don't really want to mess that up, so it's really just you reading your keys and making sure you're in the place you're supposed to be."