The Ole Miss Rebels (5-4, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) will look to become bowl eligible this weekend when they take on the visiting Vanderbilt Commodores (5-4, 3-3 SEC) Saturday at 6 p.m. in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
Saturday’s meeting will be the 87th between the two schools, with Ole Miss leading the all-time series 47-37-2, and it has major implications, as both teams are one win away from becoming bowl eligible.
“I hope our fans understand the importance of this game and will be here ready to cheer very, very loudly in the Vaught on Saturday night,” head coach Hugh Freeze said in his weekly press conference on Monday.
The Commodores come into Oxford riding a three-game winning streak in which they defeated SEC foes Auburn (17-13) and Kentucky (40-0), and also secured a win over UMass (49-7). Freeze said he and his staff have been impressed by what they have seen from Vanderbilt so far this season.
“They rank very high in all of the defensive stats,” Freeze said. “Coach (James) Franklin and his staff have done a marvelous job. His kids play extremely hard. They know exactly who they are and who they want to be.”
Vanderbilt ranks fifth in the conference in scoring defense (20.7 ppg), seventh in total defense (351.5 ypg), 12th in rushing defense (197.8 ypg) and first in pass defense (153.7 ypg), which could prove to be another tough task for the Ole Miss offense this weekend.
“They don’t do a lot of things, but what they do, they do very well,” offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. “They are based out of everything looking the same. They will show the same presnap read and have about four or five different defenses that run out of it, and it makes it tough for the quarterback to see.”
Sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace will be the one forced to make quick decisions this weekend for Ole Miss. Wallace enters the game eighth in the conference in passing yards per game (204.0 ypg) and fifth in total offense per game (233.4 ypg).
“As soon as the ball is snapped, he has to know where to go with the football,” Werner said. “He’s got to see those safeties. The safeties will start rotating to where they need to be, and we throw the opposite way. He’s done a good job of that this year.”
The Rebels will also look to revive their running game, which has struggled in their past two games. Ole Miss only ran for 77 and 46 total yards against Arkansas and Georgia, respectively.
Defensively, the Rebels will face a Vanderbilt team that Freeze said will give them a lot of different looks. The biggest worry for the Rebels, however, will come from Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy, who ranks fifth in the conference in rushing yards per game (83.6 ypg) and ran for 178 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown in last year’s contest.
“He is a physical, tough runner,” defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. “I don’t think he is a burner, but he sets up those gaps so well and bounces out and in. He is a good SEC back, and he is a guy you’ve got to stop on the run offense.”
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