The Ole Miss Rebels are riding high following a 43-37 victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa last week. Following that victory, Ole Miss made a huge jump in the polls – all the way from No. 15 to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 – and now has the inside track in the SEC West. However, the Rebels must face an improved Vanderbilt team Saturday in Oxford.
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Ole Miss -25
Three Things to Watch
1. Will There Be a Hangover Effect for Ole Miss?
Ole Miss has been arguably the most dominant team in the nation through the first three weeks of the 2015 season. The Rebels lead the nation in scoring offense (64.0 points per game), and have scored 43 points or more in three consecutive contests for the first time in school history. They also beat Alabama on the road for the first time since 1988, giving Ole Miss two straight wins over the Crimson Tide for the first time ever.
With so many people slapping the Rebels on the back following the strong start to the season – and especially following last week’s big win in Tuscaloosa – is Ole Miss susceptible to the hangover effect this week against Vanderbilt? The Commodores may only be 1-2 this season, but have been playing much better under second-year head coach Derek Mason, and are coming off an impressive 47-7 victory over Austin Peay.
2. Can Vanderbilt Slow Down the Ole Miss Offense?
After suffering through an embarrassing 3-9 season in his head coaching debut, which included a 0-8 record against SEC opponents, Mason decided to take over defensive play-calling duties for the Commodores in 2015. The change has had an immediate impact.
Vandy ranked dead last in the SEC and No. 104 in the nation in scoring defense in 2014 (33.3 points per game), and allowed more than 400 total yards per contest last year. Through three games this season, the Commodores have cut those numbers to 17.3 points per game (No. 5 in the SEC) and 270.7 yards on average (No. 3 in the SEC). And it’s not simply the product of a soft schedule – Vanderbilt held an explosive Western Kentucky offense to 14 points and 246 yards in a 14-12 season opening loss, and of the 31 points Georgia scored in Week 2, 14 came as the result of defensive and special teams touchdowns.
Ole Miss has been incredible on offense this season, but the Vanderbilt defense has made huge strides in 2015, and could be pose a tougher challenge than most expect.
3. How Will the Rebels Respond to Tony Conner’s Injury?
Despite the explosiveness of the Ole Miss offense this season, the Rebels are still led in large part by a talented, fast, and opportunistic Land Shark defense. Last week against Alabama, the Rebels forced three turnovers on defense (and two more on special teams), and now have created 10 turnovers this season, which ranks first in the SEC and is tied for the most nationally. Safety Trae Elston has intercepted one pass in each game this season, and returned two of them for touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Ole Miss will be without preseason All-American and All-SEC performer Tony Conner, who suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee against the Crimson Tide and is expected to miss at least four weeks. Conner recorded six tackles, including one for a loss, last week and had 10 tackles through the first three weeks of the season.
With Conner out, the Rebels are likely to rely on backup A.J. Moore at the Huskie (hybrid linebacker/safety) position, though others could factor in as well. Rover Mike Hilton has started five games at Huskie in his career.
We’ve gotten this far, and have yet to even mention the two stars of the show for Ole Miss. That should tell you how much of an edge the Rebels have coming into this matchup.
Quarterback Chad Kelly has been brilliant through the first three games this year, having completed 47 of 73 passes (64.4 percent) for 898 yards and nine touchdowns with just one interception, and he has spread the ball around to playmakers Cody Core (12 receptions, 299 yards, three touchdowns), Quincy Adeboyejo (10 catches, 224 yards, 5 TDs) and Laquon Treadwell (14 receptions, 197 yards, 1 TD). On the other side of the ball, Robert Nkemdiche was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Crimson Tide, which included six tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and half a sack.
With Kelly and Nkemdiche leading the way, the Rebels should roll to an easy victory Saturday.
Prediction: Ole Miss 35, Vanderbilt 10
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work on college football can also be found on SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.