A historic cross-divisional SEC rivalry game that dates back to the 1894 season goes down in Oxford on Saturday when Vanderbilt rolls into town to face Ole Miss. Both teams enter the battlefield battered and bruised but fight to remain in the hunt for a bowl berth.
While Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2 SEC) may not have a whole lot to show for it, the Commodores have easily gone through the toughest schedule in the nation to start the season, taking on then-No. 3 Georgia, Purdue, and No. 4 LSU. The Commodores finally got on the correct side of the win-loss column last week stopping Northern Illinois 24-18 in Nashville. Vanderbilt jumped out to an early lead 14-0 lead but let the foot off the gas in the second half resulting in a close contest. The Huskies outgained Vanderbilt 388 to 373, but the Commodores — who had only 54 offensive snaps — had the advantage in yards per play (6.9 to 6.2).
The schedule for the Rebels (2-3, 1-1) also has been intense, dropping the opener to Memphis (15-10), a home game to then-No. 23 California (28-20), and a road affair to No. 2 Alabama (59-31) last week. Ole Miss appeared upset-minded, holding a 10-7 lead over the Tide in Tuscaloosa after one quarter, but Tua Tagovailoa went on a tear running for a touchdown and connecting with DeVonta Smith for three more in the second quarter (he finished with four) to pull away. While the Ole Miss defense was torched, the offense played at an elite level chomping up 476 yards and 25 first downs.
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Ole Miss -7
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
Considering the level of competition, it is understandable that Vanderbilt has had a difficult time running the ball so far this season. But that changed last week when Ke'Shawn Vaughn plowed for a game-high 138 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries as part of the team's 184-yard effort. An area to watch for the Commodores is their offensive line; left tackle Devin Cochran returned to action last week after missing the first three games with an injury. This is the healthiest the Commodores have been up front all season.
If one is looking to see the effect of new Ole Miss defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre, they can look to the Landshark run defense. After giving way to 222 rushing yards per game a year ago, Ole Miss is one of the better teams against the run this season, holding foes to 107 yards on average. Where the Rebels have regressed is against the pass, allowing 314 yards per contest as opposed to 262 last season. The defense will be without starting end Ryder Anderson (knee), who is out for four weeks, and starting safety Jon Haynes (ankle) also may miss this game.
In the modern college football era, the Commodores are not slinging it around the yard as prolifically as their peers, but the passing game is a strong suit for the team this season thanks to Riley Neal. The senior transfer from Ball State enters this game with a 62 percent completion rate, along with 858 yards and four touchdowns. Neal does a good job of spreading the ball around with four targets hauling in 10 or more passes. The primary playmaker is Kalija Lipscomb, who leads Vanderbilt in receptions (23), yards (268), and touchdowns (2).
When Ole Miss Has the Ball
Where Ole Miss has hurt other teams this season is on the ground. The rushing attack is producing 199 yards per game led by Scottie Phillips. Phillips is fifth in the SEC with 389 rushing yards and is tied for third in touchdowns (4). The unit showed out against Alabama producing 279 yards on the ground with the trio of quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, along with running backs Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner doing most of the damage.
Teams are hanging 39 points per game on the Commodores with the pass defense hovering near the bottom of the FBS ranks at 381 yards per game allowed. The run defense has been okay, holding teams to 161 yards per game and is led by safety Dashaun Jenkins' 28 tackles. As a unit, the defense has just four takeaways.
The starter for the Rebels under center has been redshirt freshman Matt Corral. Corral has been serviceable, completing 60 percent of his passes with a 4:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. On the road against Alabama, four-star true freshman Plumlee stepped in for Corral (ribs) hitting 10-of-28 for 141 yards with two scores and a pick. Corral could be available this week, but don't be surprised if the Rebs go with Plumlee to start. Vanderbilt will have to double Elijah Moore on passing downs. Moore is tied for second in the SEC in receptions (32), is fourth in yards (420), and has three touchdowns.
Both squads enter the game limping. Each is vulnerable against the pass, but which quarterback will get the job done; Matt Corral or John Rhys Plumlee for Ole Miss or Riley Neal? Neal had a season-best 378 passing yards and two touchdowns against Purdue. Can he replicate that performance? When two teams appear to be evenly matched when it comes to throwing the ball, it is hard to discredit the Rebels' escalating efforts on the ground and how generous the Commodores have been against the run. Ole Miss wins its homecoming in impressive fashion.
Prediction: Ole Miss 38, Vanderbilt 27
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.