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Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss Football Prediction and Preview

Matt Corral, Ole Miss Rebels Football

Matt Corral and the Rebels look for a third straight win when they host the Commodores on Saturday night

It's been a roller coaster of a season for the Ole Miss Rebels, who have climbed to 12th in the latest College Football Playoff Rankings. They'll have a chance to build on an already-impressive campaign when they bring their three-game homestand to a close and host the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

The 2021 slate has been quite tough for the Commodores (2-8, 0-6 SEC) as first-year head coach Clark Lea has led his alma mater to just two wins by a total of five points, with both of those victories coming in the first five weeks of the season. Four of Vanderbilt's eight losses, meanwhile, have come by at least 20 points, including shutout losses to Georgia (62-0) and at Florida (42-0) with a 45-6 loss to Mississippi State two weeks ago.

Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2) will be focusing on Mississippi State next week in the Egg Bowl, but the Rebels enter Saturday's matchup against the Commodores with wins in five of their last six games. Ole Miss is coming off a 29-19 victory over then-No. 11 Texas A&M which saw the Rebels take a 15-0 lead into halftime before needing two fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull away after the Aggies scored 13 unanswered between the third and fourth. First-half performances have been quite telling for Ole Miss in recent weeks, as both of the Rebels' losses have seen them behind at halftime, while they've led at the break in all eight of their wins.

The Rebels have come out on top in six of their last eight overall against the Commodores, following up a 31-6 win in Oxford in 2019 with a 54-21 rout in Nashville last season. The Commodores haven't left Oxford with a win since pulling out a 27-26 nail-biter in 2012, part of a six-year stretch from 2008 to 2013 in which the home team won only once.

Vanderbilt at No. 12 Ole Miss

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Ole Miss -36.5

When Vanderbilt Has the Ball

Only nine FBS teams have collected fewer than 300 total yards of offense per game this season, and only one of those — Vanderbilt — competes in the SEC. The Commodores likewise enter Week 12 last in the SEC in both passing (182.5 ypg) and rushing (114.9 ypg) this season, which lends credence to their 15.1 points per game, the third-lowest mark in the FBS. The Commodores have only scored 30 points once this season — a 30-28 win over UConn in Week 5 — and have been held to single digits four times.

Quarterback Mike Wright has done what he can to keep the Commodores moving on offense. Vanderbilt's three highest-scoring games — 24 points against Colorado State, 30 against UConn, and 28 against Missouri — have been spearheaded by strong showings, especially in the passing game, by Wright and fellow signal-caller Ken Seals. Seals threw for 238 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win over Colorado State before throwing two more in a 333-yard effort against UConn. Wright had arguably the best game of any Commodore in 2021 against Missouri, though, with 122 passing yards (with 14 completions on 28 attempts) and three touchdowns alongside 14 carries for a team-high 152 rushing yards. When the two go to the air, Nashville native Cam Johnson paces the team with four touchdown catches, while fifth-year senior Chris Pierce maintains small edges over Will Sheppard in receptions (43 vs. 40) and yards (496 vs. 466).

And when the Commodores go to the air, they'll need to get the ball out quickly against a Rebels defense that has notched an SEC-best 3.5 sacks per game in 2021, the fifth-highest clip in the FBS. Sam Williams alone has collected 10.5 sacks this season, tallying two against Liberty two weeks ago, one each against Auburn and LSU, and 1.5 against Tennessee. Ole Miss has caused 18 turnovers — including an SEC-best nine fumbles recovered, three of which have come from linebacker Chance Campbell.

When Ole Miss Has the Ball

The Rebels have maintained their consistent prolific play on offense, leading the SEC — and sitting third in the FBS — with 522.2 yards of total offense per game. Matt Corral gets most of the praise as the signal-caller leading the potent unit, and with good reason, as he's on pace to crack the 3,000-yard passing mark (needs 226) against the Commodores while having thrown just two interceptions.

While Corral has played quite well, the good news is that he's had plenty of help and hasn't needed to carry the offense on his own. Ole Miss has rushed for 239.8 yards per game through 10 contests, the best rate in the SEC and trailing only the service academy duo of Air Force (311.2) and Army (302.4) for the FBS lead. The rushing attack has been quite balanced, with four Rebels sitting among the top 20 in the SEC in rushing. Jerrion Ealy stands atop the group with 65.3 yards per game, followed closely by Henry Parrish Jr. (52.9), Corral (52.3), and Snoop Conner (50.9). And when Corral elects to go to the air, Dontario Drummond hauls in just over five catches per game, but his connections with Braylon Sanders have yielded big plays to the tune of nearly 24 yards per reception, the second-highest average in the FBS (Trea Shropshire – UAB, 25.71).

Vanderbilt's offense may throw a few too many interceptions for Lea's liking, but he and defensive coordinator/safeties coach Jesse Minter must be pleased with their defense's 12 picks, the second-highest mark in the SEC behind only South Carolina's 14.

That's about where the good news stops for the Commodores' defense, though. Interceptions will be tough to come by against an Ole Miss offense that has thrown just two picks this season, tied with Toledo and Kent State for the fewest in the FBS. Even more troubling, opponents have managed 36 points and 457.7 yards per game against Vanderbilt (both worst among SEC defenses) through 10 weeks, with six of the Commodores' last eight opponents scoring at least 30 points. A key reason: the Commodores have tallied just eight sacks all season — 19 teams have notched at least eight in a single game alone.

Final Analysis

Ole Miss clearly has the advantage on both sides of the ball this weekend and more often than not has played to that edge this season when it's been in the Rebels' favor. One key area to watch, however, is the Rebels' undisciplined tendencies. Ole Miss enters Week 12 with an SEC-high 9.4 penalties committed for 81.8 yards per game. Only one other FBS team commits more penalties (Toledo) and the Rebels are third in yards lost due to their yellow laundry. On the other hand, Vanderbilt is on the opposite end of the spectrum with the fourth-fewest penalties and penalty yardage per game in the SEC. So if Ole Miss is looking too far ahead at the Egg Bowl and doesn't have a clear focus on Saturday, the visitors just make it a bit more interesting than expected.

Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Vanderbilt 24

Podcast: Week 12 Predictions + Picks Against the Spread, CFB Playoff Rankings, and the Latest in Coaching Searches

— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.