Vanderbilt will face their toughest test of the 2015 season on Saturday when they head to Oxford to face a dynamic Mississippi Rebel team. Ole Miss is currently ranked #3 in the nation after defeating Alabama last weekend, and now they'll need a big win over a 1-2 Vandy team to keep that momentum moving forward.
The Commodores would be more than happy to play spoiler. Vanderbilt is 6-4 against the Rebels in the last 10 years, but they're working on the wrong side of recent history after getting pasted 41-3 last fall. That game introduced Vandy fans to the walking dumpster fire better known as "Starting Quarterback Stephen Rivers" and managed only 167 yards of total offense in one of the team's worst performances in the modern era.
Things will be better on Saturday, if only because they couldn't possibly get worse. To help us assess Vanderbilt's chances, I turned to an expert. JuCo All-American is an author over at Red Cup Rebellion, SBNation's Ole Miss headquarters. He was nice enough to sit down with me and trade questions about this weekend's matchup. If you'd like to know what I said about the 'Dores, click here. Otherwise, scroll on through and see what he thinks about the Rebels.
1. Ole Miss is sporting an all-time offense after averaging 64 points per game to open up the 2015 season. Chad Kelly is coming off a 343-yard, three touchdown performance against Alabama. What has the former Clemson QB brought to the Mississippi offense, and how is he different from Bo Wallace?
JCAA: There are two big differences so far between Chad Kelly and Bo Wallace: arm strength and decision making. The Good Bo / Bad Bo narrative for Wallace was a little stale, but it did get at his general flaw. He didn't have the physical skills necessary to allow him to succeed without taking lots of chances. I personally liked Bo Wallace a lot and still do. He did some wonderful things during his time in Oxford. Unfortunately, when he badly injured his shoulder against, of all teams, Tulane in his first season in Oxford, his arm just never looked the same. By the end of each of the following seasons, throwing more than 20 yards was very difficult for Bo.
Kelly, on the other hand, has a very live arm with great deep accuracy. He's generally putting the ball out in front of receivers going deep and has been really, really successful in that. When he does miss, he misses long, and that's alright in situations like that since it doesn't lead to interceptions. His decision making (outside of, you know, the play from the Alabama game you might have seen) has been really, really good as well. He's not throwing balls that can be intercepted, and he's generally noticing mismatches and trying to take advantage of them. There are still, apparently, some problems with his progressions, but if this is "Bad Chad," then I'm excited to see "Good Chad."
2. Four different players have earned 10 or more carries out of the Rebel backfield, and each is averaging at least 5.7 yards per carry. Who is the engine behind Ole Miss's running game, and what can we expect to see on Saturday?
That statistic on rushing totals is a bit misleading based on who Ole Miss has played. All the backs had it easy against UT-Martin and Fresno State. The only two I noticed that played against Alabama were Jaylen Walton
and Jordan Wilkins
, and they're the two who will likely do most of the damage on Saturday
. Walton is a shifty, undersized runner who would be at his best as a complimentary ball carrier but has been forced into a starting role. Wilkins is a bigger back who does good things at times but is a little too indecisive and dances around before hitting the hole. The Ole Miss running game isn't something that will get the Rebels to Atlanta. If it can be more than a hindrance though, it would go a long way in the Rebels' quest for the SEC Championship
. With the passing game Ole Miss can potentially employ, they just need a rushing attack that can pick up tough yards when they need them.
I will say that the offensive line, even without All-American
Laremy Tunsil, appears to be able to push in run blocking better than it did last season. We aren't seeing a bunch of rushing attempts blown up in the backfield, and that's due in part to the exceptional play of true freshman Javon Patterson, who stole his starting job from a fifth year senior who started at the position for two years.
3. The Nkemdiche brothers deservedly get a lot of credit for their work on the defensive side of the ball, but who are some lesser-known Rebels who we'll see disrupting Vanderbilt plays this weekend?
My favorite player on the entire team is senior safety Mike Hilton, who led the team in tackles last season and is never mentioned in any article about the Rebels. He has started games at corner, husky (the LB/S hybrid we implement in the 4-2-5), and both safety spots. He can play anywhere and is all over the field. Hilton also won the Chucky Mullins award, which honors essentially the defensive player (almost always a starter) with the most upstanding character on the team. He wears 38 in memory of Mullins, who I assume as a Vanderbilt fan you likely know about.
All Ole Miss eyes will be on sophomore AJ Moore this weekend as he steps in for injured All-SEC husky Tony Conner. Moore forced a fumble against Alabama and recovered another, but his playing time is usually limited to special teams until later in games. This week, he'll be a starter, and the husky position is vital to the defense. If he can't make slot receivers pay and prevent Vanderbilt from being successful running outside, it could prove problematic as Ole Miss tries to replace Conner's production for a few weeks (timetable we've heard is 4 to 6).
Oh. Sophomore defensive end Marquis Haynes is a ridiculous pass rusher. Because of how Robert Nkemdiche demands a double (and sometimes triple) team, it makes Haynes really hard to deal with. I suggest Vanderbilt should make every effort to block him on passing downs, even if it means leaving a tight end and a running back in pass protection. If not, he can really disrupt plays, as we saw against Alabama when he essentially forced two interceptions.
4. Ole Miss is coming off a monster win after defeating then #2 Alabama last week. Do you have any concerns about a letdown game after such a big performance?
As an Ole Miss fan for many years, I'm always concerned about letdowns, especially playing Vanderbilt. I will say though, this team isn't carrying itself like one that's just happy to have beaten Alabama. They're talking about all the things they did wrong, the points they left on the field, etc. Also, the team is just full of talented freaks of nature. I think there comes a point where a team is just so talented that even in a "letdown" kind of situation, they're really, really good.
5. Prediction time: what's the final score, and how do we get there?
I'm predicting Ole Miss 37 - Vanderbilt 10. I don't think it's heresy to say, even to a Vanderbilt blog, that the Commodores just don't look like a good team. This Ole Miss team has a chance to be really special. They're able to generate big plays to score but are also capable of sustaining long drives if they need to. On defense, the linebacking corps is the only unit that was questionable entering the season, but they've done their jobs admirably so far. I think Ole Miss likely comes out of the gate swinging and scores twice relatively early before the two teams slow down and start trying to be a little more methodical in their approaches.
Ultimately, I just can't shake the feeling that the Rebel defensive line will be too much for the Commodores.