OXFORD, Mississippi — No. 17 LSU has lost two straight games and fallen out of Southeastern Conference title contention while No. 25 Mississippi lost its last outing two weeks ago in overtime.
The difficult stretch has revealed plenty of problems for both teams. One common issue: Inconsistent — and sometimes downright bad — defense.
Now the Tigers (7-2, 4-2 SEC, No. 15 CFP) and Rebels (7-3, 4-2, No. 22 CFP) are hoping to fix their issues on that side of the ball on Saturday.
Ole Miss has the league's best offense, averaging more than 40 points per game. That wasn't enough in a 53-52 overtime loss to Arkansas on Nov. 7.
The Rebels, coming off a bye last weekend, couldn't contain Razorbacks' quarterback Brandon Allen, who threw six touchdown passes. LSU doesn't have nearly as productive of a passing game, but boasts one of the best running backs in the nation in sophomore Leonard Fournette.
"You are playing against one of the best backs, probably, in the history of the SEC," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "It is a huge challenge. You have to gang tackle. You have to run to the football."
LSU, on the other hand, will be primarily concerned with the Ole Miss passing game. Rebels' quarterback Chad Kelly leads the league in most passing categories.
LSU's secondary has been an issue at times this season. The team's passing defense ranks 8th out of 14 league teams.
Tigers coach Les Miles says he's seen some improvement.
"I think it's safe to say that we're talented (in the secondary), that we'll be youthful at times, but that we are coming," Miles said.
Some things to watch when No. 17 LSU travels to face No. 25 Mississippi on Saturday.
QUITE AN OFFENSE: Ole Miss continues to have the league's best offense — especially in the passing game. The Rebels lead the SEC in several major statistical categories, including scoring (40.7 points per game), total offense (526.6 yards per game) and passing offense (348.8 yards per game). Ole Miss needs just 36 points to break the school's single-season scoring record, which was set in 2003 when Eli Manning was the quarterback.
QUITE AN OFFENSE PART II: A big reason the Ole Miss offense is so good is junior quarterback Chad Kelly. The junior college transfer, who is the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, has thrown for 3,224 yards, 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season. He threw three touchdown passes and ran for three more touchdowns in the loss to Arkansas on Nov. 7.
NO NKEMDICHE: Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche spent time in the hospital this week according to a statement released on the family and won't play in Saturday's game. The family and the school did not say why Nkemdiche was hospitalized. Nkemdiche, a fifth-year senior who is the older brother of defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, leads the team with 53 tackles this season.
ORDINARY FOURNETTE: LSU sophomore running back Leonard Fournette looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate through much of the first half of the season, running for at least 100 yards in the first seven games. But in the Tigers' last two games — both losses — Fournette was held to just 31 yards rushing against Alabama and 91 against Arkansas.
CONSISTENT LSU: The Tigers have been one of the most successful teams in the SEC over the past decade and a half. If LSU gets one more win this year, it will have eight wins for the 16th straight season. The Tigers have lost two games in a row coming into Saturday's game, and haven't had a three-game losing streak since 2005.
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP.