Through the first three weeks of the season, Vanderbilt captured the nation’s attention after going 3-0 including a win over then-No. 18 Kansas State. The excitement in Nashville didn't last long, as reality hit the following week in the form of a 59-0 whitewashing at home by Alabama. Things didn’t get much better from there with losses to Florida and Georgia. Vanderbilt now sits at 3-3 and still in search of its first SEC win as it heads to Oxford.
The Commodores aren’t alone.
Ole Miss also enters Saturday on a three-game losing streak during which the Rebels have been outscored 137-42. Many expected a rough go for interim head coach Matt Luke following the fallout from Hugh Freeze’s resignation in the midst of a NCAA investigation, and that’s pretty much how things have played out thus far. However, a win over Vanderbilt would not only snap Ole Miss’ losing streak, it also could go a long way towards restoring confidence for a team that has already seen plenty go wrong.
Ole Miss and Vanderbilt first played each other back in 1894. The Rebels lead the all-time series 50-39-2, but the Commodores won the last meeting, beating Ole Miss 38-17 in Nashville last year.
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Ole Miss -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb
While Webb (above, right) gained deserved national attention during the first half of the season, he’s hardly new when it comes to gashing defenses. Webb posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons entering his senior year and has already cemented his legacy as the Commodores’ all-time leading rusher.
It’s been a struggle for him to this point, but he remains a threat whenever he touches the ball. He’s yet to post a 100-yard game as he’s managed just 245 rushing yards on 87 carries (2.8 ypc) and three touchdowns through the first six games.
Webb ran for 123 yards and three scores against the Rebels last year, so this could be a chance for him to finally break out. For the second straight season Ole Miss is struggling against the run, as the Rebels currently rank 122nd in the nation at 248.6 rushing yards allowed per game.
2. Vanderbilt’s stellar pass defense vs. Shea Patterson
While Alabama’s defense receives the bulk of recognition in the SEC, Vanderbilt is currently among the best in country against the pass. The Commodores are ranked fourth in pass defense, holding teams to just 140.3 yards per game and only five touchdowns through the air. The most they have allowed in a game so far is 249 passing yards to Florida two weeks ago.
Vanderbilt is in for arguably its biggest test yet as Patterson enters this game leading the SEC with nearly 360 passing yards per game. The sophomore already has two 400-yard games and has faced the Commodores previously. Last season in just the second start of his collegiate career, Patterson threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns in the road loss to Vanderbilt.
3. Rebels wide receiver A.J. Brown
Brown, a sure-handed pass catcher, has established good rapport with Patterson. The relationship has greatly benefited both parties. After totaling just 412 receiving yards last year, Brown opened 2017 with an eight-catch, 233-yard, two-touchdown performance against South Alabama. He followed that up with similar (8-156-2) numbers vs. UT Martin, but was injured early against California.
Brown returned on Sept. 30 following Ole Miss’ bye week and was held to just six yards on one reception against Alabama. But he found his stride last week against Auburn, finishing with 10 grabs for 109 yards. The Patterson-Brown combo vs. one of the nation’s stingiest pass defenses should be fun to watch.
The Commodores and Rebels meet in Oxford on similar trajectories. Both teams desperately need a win, but for different reasons. With a self-imposed postseason ban in place, Ole Miss is playing for pride and could use a win to give the fans something to cheer about and help restore confidence to a reeling program. For Vanderbilt, a win will move the Commodores a step closer to bowl eligibility and give them their first SEC victory.
All eyes will be focused to see how Shea Patterson fares against Vanderbilt’s stingy pass defense. In the end, Saturday should give Ralph Webb the opportunity to finally break loose and help snap Vanderbilt’s three-game losing streak.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 31, Ole Miss 28
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.