After dropping three consecutive road games, Ole Miss football returns to Oxford on Saturday for a chance at redemption. Last season, Vanderbilt’s 38-17 victory decimated the Rebels’ chance at a bowl game. In similar fashion, this year’s 3-3 Commodores could make or break Ole Miss’ season yet again.
Since former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin left for Penn State in 2014, the Commodores’ football program has continuously slipped. Franklin led Vanderbilt to its first back-to-back nine-win seasons in school history. Current head coach Derek Mason has not found the same success. He has failed to produce a .500-plus season in Nashville as of yet. And after the Commodores’ 59-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama and 45-14 loss to then-No. 5 Georgia, this season is not looking much better. Nonetheless, Ole Miss cannot afford to take any foe lightly.
Vanderbilt’s offense boasts a veteran running back in Ralph Webb, who managed three touchdowns and more than 120 yards against the Rebels in 2016. Ole Miss defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff has his work cut out for him. Limiting rush yards will define the game’s outcome, and that’s bad news for a Rebel defense struggling to contain opposing backs. Case in point: The Rebels surrendered more than 300 yards on the ground to Auburn last weekend. Not promising.
While the Commodores tore apart Ole Miss on the ground last year, they are no strangers to passing the football, either. This season, Vanderbilt has amassed more than 1,200 total yards in the air, good for 12 touchdowns and a 56 percent completion rate.
Vanderbilt’s most threatening receiver, senior Trent Sherfield, is currently eighth in SEC receiving yards, just behind A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge. Last year, Sherfield gashed the Rebels for 72 yards and a touchdown on only two catches, and with 334 receiving yards this year, that number could grow significantly Saturday.
While the Commodores have lost three consecutive games, they did capture a 14-7 victory over No. 18 Kansas State earlier this fall. On any given day, Vanderbilt has proven it can hang against tougher opponents. With that said, its three most recent opponents have outscored it 142-38. Ole Miss’ offense, while streaky, can be explosive and could add to that score line.
However, the Commodores’ impressive secondary could give Shea Patterson and his offense a run for their money. Vanderbilt’s defensive backs have only allowed an average of 5.7 yards per pass play and kept opponents to a 54 percent completion rate. Expect the Rebels to rely on running back Jordan Wilkins to open up the game for head coach Matt Luke’s talented wideout corps.
Ole Miss leads the SEC in passing yards and has no shortage of dangerous playmakers out wide. A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, DaMarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson have all shown the type of game-changing ability that makes NFL coaches salivate. This position battle is one to watch.
The Rebels enter Saturday hoping to avenge their 2016 loss and jump-start any sign of life heading into the back half of the season. On the other side of the stadium, Vanderbilt hopes to find a rhythm that might further propel its bowl push. The game is set to kick off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.