Rebels and Commodores square off on Saturday in Nashville looking to snap losing streaks
The Ole Miss Rebels and Vanderbilt Commodores will meet in Nashville on Saturday for their annual cross-conference rivalry game. A matchup that features a pair of seemingly snake-bitten SEC squads in search of a much-needed win. The Rebels won last year's contest in Oxford by a score of 31-6 to extend their lead in the all-time series to 50-40-2.
Vanderbilt's troubles began before the season even started with several players opting out due to the pandemic. Injuries and COVID-19 proceeded to take an even bigger toll on the Vandy roster in losses to Texas A&M (17-12), LSU (41-7), and South Carolina (41-7). Following the 0-3 start, the Commodores' roster became so depleted that they were forced to postpone their Oct. 17 game against Missouri. After sitting out last week with a bye, Derek Mason's squad finally appears to be on the mend. However, they will still be a bit shorthanded when they take the field for the first time in three weeks on Saturday against Ole Miss. There will also be plenty of rust to knock off as the upset-minded Commodores go in search of their first victory of the season.
Injuries and COVID-19 related issues also have taken a toll on Ole Miss, which was forced to move three offensive players over to defense last week due to depleted numbers on that side of the football. That was just one of several factors that ultimately led to last Saturday's controversial 35-28 loss to Auburn. A loss that proved costly in more ways than one for head coach Lane Kiffin, who was fined $25k for his post-game retweet criticizing SEC officiating. Now 1-4 at the midway point of their 2020 campaign, the Rebels will bring their high-powered offense to Nashville looking to snap a three-game losing skid.
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 31 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Ole Miss -17
When Ole Miss Has the Ball
The Ole Miss passing game appeared to be unstoppable through the first three weeks of the season behind the arm of quarterback Matt Corral, who completed 76.1 percent of his passes for 1,080 yards (360.0 ypg) with nine touchdowns and just one interception during that stretch. However, opposing defenses appear to have found an answer for the Rebels' high-octane passing attack. In Ole Miss' last two matchups against Arkansas and Auburn, Corral has completed just 55.4 percent of his passes for a pedestrian 354 yards (177.0 ypg) with three touchdowns and eight interceptions. Vanderbilt will likely employ a defensive strategy similar to that of Arkansas and Auburn in an attempt to limit the Rebels through the air again on Saturday. The Commodores rank fourth in the SEC and 52nd nationally against the pass, surrendering 240.7 yards per game. Their most difficult task will be trying to contain Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore, who leads the SEC in both receptions (47) and receiving yards (591).
If the Vandy defense does opt to focus most of its attention on limiting the Rebels' passing game, it will likely come at a cost against an equally dangerous Ole Miss rushing attack. The Rebels currently sit atop the SEC rushing rankings, averaging 220.4 yards per game. Running backs Jerrion Ealy (85 carries, 429 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Snoop Conner (65 carries, 294 yards, 4 touchdowns) combine to form a potent one-two punch in the backfield. Meanwhile, quarterbacks Corral and John Rhys Plumlee serve as major threats in the run game as well. That does not bode well for a Vanderbilt run defense that is giving up 211.0 rushing yards per game (13th in the SEC) and 6.5 yards per carry (dead last in the SEC). By ground or by air, the Commodores will probably be in over their heads trying to contain the Rebels' up-tempo offensive attack on Saturday.
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
Life in the SEC has proven difficult in the early going for Vanderbilt true freshman quarterback Ken Seals, who has thrown for just 411 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions in three starts. He also has the lowest passer rating (108.23) among starting quarterbacks in the SEC. But hope is not completely lost for the promising young signal-caller against an Ole Miss pass defense that allows almost 300 yards per game through the air. Seals also has three competent pass-catchers who he can rely on in Amir Abdur-Rahman (8 receptions, 122 yards, touchdown), Cam Johnson (9 receptions, 127 yards, touchdown), and tight end Ben Bresnahan (11 receptions, 97 yards, touchdown). That being said, the Rebels have tightened up against the pass in their last three games, and the Vandy passing attack still has a long way to go.
Vanderbilt's best chance for success on Saturday could come on the ground against a very generous Ole Miss run defense that has allowed more rushing yards (1,284) and touchdowns (18) than any other defense in the SEC. The bad news is that leading rusher Ja'Veon Marlow is not currently listed on the depth chart for Saturday's contest and may not be available. The good news is that Vanderbilt will be able to lean on Keyon Henry-Brooks, who provided a nice spark for the run game against South Carolina, rushing for 72 yards on just 13 carries in his first action of the season. Despite the favorable matchup, the Rebels will likely counter by stacking the box in a bid to contain the Commodores on the ground and force their freshman quarterback to beat them with his arm. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
Vanderbilt has yet to score more than one touchdown in a game this season, and the Commodores have not scored more than 14 points in their last seven conference games. That should change on Saturday against a really bad Ole Miss defense that has yet to surrender less than 33 points in a game all season. The problem is that Vanderbilt's defense isn't much better. And it's going to be nearly impossible for the Commodores' lackluster offense to keep up with the Rebels' high-powered offensive attack on the scoreboard. Ole Miss should rack up more than enough points to come out on top with an easy victory on Saturday.
Prediction: Ole Miss 45, Vanderbilt 21
Podcast: Week 9 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.