Nov 21, 2003
By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP Sports Writer
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - The stakes are clear for LSU: A victory over Mississippi puts the Tigers in control of the Southeastern Conference West and in the race for the national championship.
"I think one of the things this team has done good is not really focus on the outside things and realize we have to go out and play as well as we can no matter who we're going against or who the opponent is," LSU quarterback Matt Mauck said.
No. 3 LSU (9-1, 5-1) won the SEC two years ago. It has been decades since Mississippi played a game with this much on the line. No. 15 Ole Miss can clinch its first SEC West title Saturday with a victory.
Ole Miss (8-2, 6-0) is on a six-game winning streak and trying to take a big step toward its first SEC title in 40 years. The Rebels will be playing before what is expected to be a record crowd of nearly 62,000 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"The students and the fans, they're eating it up. They're really having a great time with it," Ole Miss defensive end Charlie Anderson said. "It's nothing that I think about. All I think about is playing a great game and, hopefully, we'll come out on top."
The Rebels' Eli Manning leads the SEC in yards passing (2,881) and touchdown passes (23) while directing the No. 1 offense in the league.
"He's as good a quarterback as we've faced all year, Heisman Trophy candidate and everything," LSU cornerback Corey Webster said.
He will be facing a suffocating LSU defense. The Tigers lead the nation in scoring defense (8.9 points per game), are No. 2 against the run (60.8 yards per game) and No. 4 overall (259.7 ypg).
The domination starts up front with a big, fast and tenacious line.
"None comparable," Rebels tackle Tre' Stalling said.
Ends Marcus Spears and Marquise Hill and tackles Chad Lavalais and Kyle Williams have accounted for 15 of LSU's SEC-leading 30 sacks.
"We have speed. We're aggressive. We're going to come after them," Lavalais said. "But when you've got Eli you can be as aggressive as you want and he's still going to get his yards. We respect him as a competitor, but we're going to try to disrupt him the whole game."
Since the SEC split into two divisions in 1992, Ole Miss is the only Western Division team without an appearance in the SEC championship game.
"My senior year in high school we hadn't been to the state championship in a long time," Ole Miss linebacker Justin Wade said. "This is kind of like the same thing, except times 10."
Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning faces one of his toughest tests of the year against LSU's defense.