Chants of “V-U” echoed throughout Commodore Stadium as Ole Miss’ rollercoaster ride of a season began to plunge into another valley in Nashville, Tennessee, Saturday night. Vanderbilt (5-6) running back Ralph Webb had just sprung 11 yards forward into the end zone for his third score of the night. It was the culmination of 31 unanswered points by the Commodores as they took a 31-10 lead. Ole Miss (5-6) had no answer, as it was trounced 38-17.
“It is a brutal roller coaster on you and your family and the young men that you work with,” Hugh Freeze said. “This is a great example of it these last two weeks. The emotional highs of winning on the road and then the disappointment of being out-coached tonight, out-played. They wanted it more in every facet of the game.”
It was much of the same for an Ole Miss defense that has struggled to stop opponents this year, especially on the ground. Webb had 123 yards on 20 carries. Vanderbilt rushed for 208 yards as a team. One of the SEC’s most stagnant offenses came to life against the Rebels.
“If you give up explosive plays and can’t stop the run, you aren’t going to beat anyone,” Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack said. “That’s what it seemed like we did, especially in the second half. We gave up two in the first half as well. We have just got to find a way to fix those things.”
The Commodores had not scored more than 17 points in an SEC game this season. They did that in the third quarter alone, one that saw the Rebels lose senior leader DeMarquis Gates for the rest of the game to a targeting call.
“I think when Gates went down, we lost some communication with the front, and some of that at times playing Willie (Hibbler) in there, but I don’t want to put it all on Willie. Other linebackers have to get us lined up and make the calls as well,” Wommack said.
Ole Miss scored 10 straight points to begin the game, as it appeared to be ascending upward from last week’s high, led and rejuvenated by freshman quarterback Shea Patterson. After that, though, Ole Miss began its decent. Vanderbilt quickly answered with a touchdown with the help of a 67-yard pass from Kyle Shurmur to Trent Shurfield when the Rebels bit on a double move. Webb finished it off with the first of his trio of touchdowns.
Shurmur finished 17-30 for 273 yards and two touchdown passes.
“A couple of times our corners were out there and bit on some stuff they didn’t need to bite on,” Wommack said. “You have to learn from your experiences, and our guys aren’t doing that at times, and we aren’t doing a good enough job of coaching them to do that.”
The downward trajectory continued as Patterson looked uncomfortable in the pocket. Time after time, he was flushed out, as he often tucked the ball at the first sign of trouble in an attempt to make a play with his feet. He finished 20-42 for 228 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked three times.
“They gave gave him a lot of different looks, and he’s trying to set the protections. This is new to him. He hadn’t had a lot of reps lately doing that, and they had a game plan. There were couple of different things they did tonight that he hadn’t seen and made him a little antsy,” Freeze said. “But that is to be expected in his second game.”
As the Vanderbilt defensive line continued to pressure the young quarterback, the receivers didn’t help the cause. Drops plagued the unit and thwarted any attempt at a rhythm offensively.
“I don’t know how many drops we had tonight. It had to be approaching 10-12,” Freeze said. “Those are critical.”
Shurmur added a touchdown pass to Shurfield in the second quarter. Vanderbilt took a 14-10 lead into halftime before Ole Miss came unraveled in the third.
Shurmur and the offense landed a big first punch in the third quarter with a 90-yard drive to go up 21-10, and they never relented, as the Rebels watched the game get away from them. The Commodores racked up 481 yards of offense.
“It’s pretty disappointing. We came in prepared, and it just sucks to lose the game,” Carlos Davis said. “To go out like that, I’m a senior, and I want to go out the right way.”
At 5-6, Ole Miss will need a win in the Egg Bowl next week to become bowl eligible. It must deal with this defeat as well as the numbing reality of where this season has gone.
“I don’t think anyone would have imagined that,” Akeem Judd said. “That’s how football is. You are playing for great success, and it doesn’t always go your way. So it teaches you other lessons besides just playing football.”
Judd finished with 63 yards on 10 carries and caught a touchdown pass from Patterson, too.
He described the locker room as quiet, as this team that’s endured so many highs, lows and doses of adversity looks to grapple onto something tangibly positive moving into the season’s final game.
“The silver lining, if there is one, is that we get to go play for the Egg Bowl next week at home to get bowl eligible,” Freeze said. “That’s where our focus will turn to.”