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Rebels, LSU meet in similar positions

It wasn’t long ago that Saturday’s matchup between No. 25 Ole Miss and No. 17 LSU looked as if it could have all the makings of a showdown with Southeastern Conference Western Division title implications.

Instead, both teams limp into the matchup carrying disappointment.

Ole Miss (7-3, 4-2 SEC) lost a hold of its destiny in the division with its lackluster-turned-improbable setback to Arkansas two Saturdays ago. It left the door open for LSU, then ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, to all but lock up the West title with a win over Alabama later that day, but the Tigers (7-2, 4-2) were throttled in Tuscaloosa and never recovered last week in a second straight loss to Arkansas that’s brought all of their championship momentum to a screeching halt.

“That’s one of the greatest lessons I think you can learn in life is how do you handle that?” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “They’re being challenged with that just like we’ve been, but there’s no question when you put the film on how talented this team is.”

Ole Miss still technically has a shot to win the West if it can beat LSU and Mississippi State and Auburn upsets Alabama in two weeks. Even if it doesn’t happen, the Rebels insist there’s still plenty of motivation for two rivalry games starting with an LSU team that’s won five of the last six in the series and knocked the Rebels from the ranks of the unbeaten a season ago.

“Any time you talk about a rivalry game, it means a lot not only to the players but to the fans as well, so we hope they come out and create a great atmosphere for us,” linebacker C.J. Johnson said. “It’s going to be a great game.”

Said quarterback  Chad Kelly, “Both teams will be ready and anxious to go.”

Going back and forth
Ole Miss’ inability to stop Brandon Allen and the passing game against Arkansas got so bad that utility defensive back Mike Hilton was moved to cornerback in certain packages to try to help out, something the Rebels are sticking with this week.

Hilton has played all four positions in the Rebels’ secondary during his career. He started the year at rover after playing corner last season and moved to Huskie two games after Tony Conner went down with his knee injury.

Hilton will continue to alternate positions based on the situation.

“Mike Hilton continues to be a guy we can move around, and we’re looking at the different packages we’ll carry as to where we’ll play him,” Freeze said.

Packages for Conner
Conner played against Arkansas for the first time since tearing the meniscus in his right knee against Alabama on Sept. 19. Freeze said afterward the junior safety had swelling that was drained.

Conner was held out of practice all of last week but returned Sunday, Freeze said. The Rebels’ plan is to use Conner where they can in the final two games before he has to have another surgery on the knee after the season.

“I’d say Tony is probably about 60 percent,” Freeze said. “There’s certain things he feels fine about, and there’s certain things he doesn’t. We’ll try to manage that in packages where he can help us be successful and ask him to do something he feels fairly good about doing.”

Friendly wager
Trae Elston is willing to wear an LSU jersey as long as one of his former high school teammates would rock an Ole Miss top.

The Rebels’ senior safety said he’s trying convince Tampa Bay rookie linebacker and former LSU standout Kwon Alexander to make a bet with him. If Ole Miss loses, Elston will wear an LSU jersey. Should the Rebels win, Alexander would have to wear an Ole Miss jersey.

The pair were teammates at Oxford High (Alabama).

“I’ll be rocking an LSU jersey,” Elston said of the bet. “I have one, but I think he’ll send one to me special.”