Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt may not be the sexiest matchup in the SEC this week, but when you consider Alabama is playing The Citadel, LSU is playing Rice, Florida is playing Idaho and Auburn is playing somebody called “Liberty,” this game suddenly looks like it will be the most competitive on the slate for Saturday. Even ESPN’s Football Power Index is showing Vanderbilt to have a 51-to-49 advantage in their win probability. Yes, it’s that tight.
Depending on when you are reading this, the Ole Miss football team only has eight or nine days left in its 2018 season. The Rebels (5-5, 1-5 SEC) are still on probation and will be sitting at home regardless of how their final two games go. They limp into Nashville having lost their last three games, giving up a combined 117 points. They’ve got this game and the Egg Bowl vs. Mississippi State to get the bad taste of this season out of their mouths.
It’s been 35 days since Vanderbilt (4-6, 1-5) last played a home game but have played pretty well since that loss to Florida on Oct. 13. The Commodores lost by seven at Kentucky, then whipped Arkansas 45-31 and had a tough loss at Missouri last week, dropping a 33-28 decision as a last-gasp pass to the end zone was knocked down. But they’ve still got their eye on the postseason as a win here and a win vs. Tennessee next week would put them at the all-important six-win plateau.
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Vanderbilt - 2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Play some defense, please
These defenses are the two worst in the conference. In fact, the Rebels rank 125th in the country, giving up nearly 500 yards per game. The Commodores are second to last in the SEC, relenting 421 yards per game. But to their credit, Vanderbilt did play a nip-and-tuck defensive game with Kentucky a few weeks ago, dropping a 14-7 decision and giving up just 298 yards to the Wildcats. Both defenses are a little banged up. The Ole Miss receiving corps has a ton of weapons with the NWO, Nasty WideOuts, and have to be licking their chops to get at that weak and injury-pocked Commodores secondary. Look for Rebels QB Jordan Ta’amu to have a field day and add to his SEC-best 337.4 passing yards per game average.
2. Keep on keepin’ on with Ke’Shawn Vaughn
After sitting out the loss to Kentucky, the shifty Commodore running back has put together back-to-back monster games with 172 rushing yards in the 45-31 win over Arkansas and last week’s 182 yards at Missouri. Vaughn is averaging a ridiculous 7.5 yards per carry this season and has had TD runs of 63 and 65 yards in the last two games. If he is rolling, that opens up everything for the Vanderbilt offense, including their screen game they go to at opportune times. Also keep in mind that Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams chugged for 228 yards against that Rebel defense last week. Will there be a repeat of that here with Vaughn?
3. Who runs out of gas?
Both the Rebels and Commodores had victories in sight last week but ended up blowing second-half leads in losses to Texas A&M and Missouri respectively. While they are both giving up too many first quarter points, it’s the fourth quarter that will be the key this week. Both defenses are a little banged up, so look for stamina to be an issue. Whoever has the time of possession advantage going into the fourth quarter will have the edge and the momentum to take the game over.
This will be a fun game. Can’t wait to see how the showdown between Rebel QB Jordan Ta’amu and Commodore QB Kyle Shurmur transpires as both should have carte blanche to pile up the yards and pick apart the defenses. Besides the time of possession factor this game could come down to whichever team turns the ball over less and has the ball last. Or better yet, whichever defense plays its best game of the year.
Something tells me the Vanderbilt defense makes one more stop than the Rebels' defense.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 42, Ole Miss 38
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.