In what is expected to be one of the two hardest games on our schedule, Vanderbilt travels to the Grove for a showdown with the #3 Ole Miss
Rebels Fighting Akbars (Rebel) Black Bears. The Black Bears' high powered offense was averaging 70+ before playing Alabama but only put up a paltry 43 in Tuscaloosa. Can Derek Mason's revamped defense keep up with the lightening quick offense? Can the Vandy O-Line hold back the Brothers Nkemdiche? Will we see Johnny Be Good again as we did against Austin Peay? Our Crack staff of experts provides you with their predictions on Saturday's game:
Christian D'Andrea: Ole Miss is a more talented team on both sides of the ball; by a significant margin on offense, and by inches on defense. While Rebel fans are keen to predict a 50+ point explosion Saturday, I think Derek Mason - the guy who shut down Oregon while he was calling the shots for Stanford's defense - will find a way to limit their effectiveness. Vanderbilt has found a way to keep everyone not named Nick Chubb from exploding for big plays so far this year, and their ability to grind down opposing offenses will help them keep the Rebels in line.
Of course, that shifts quite a bit of pressure to the team's offense. Vanderbilt scored 47 points in a record setting performance last week, but that was against an Austin Peay team that may or may not have even tried to cover Trent Sherfield in the second half. The ground game continued to look suspect despite the lower-tier opponent, too. Ralph Webb and Dallas Rivers combined to average 2.9 yards per carry against the Governors. If you scale that up to meet Ole Miss's level of talent, that translates to roughly -4 yards for each handoff.
Vanderbilt will have to take advantage of every opportunity they get in order to pull off an upset on Saturday. That means generating turnovers - something they have failed to do with regularity under Derek Mason. In Mason's 15 games, they've forced only 14 fumbles or interceptions. That's not a very opportunistic showing for a team that needs all the extra scoring chances they can muster. Saturday's matchup will also put Johnny McCrary's red zone skills to the test. He's been horrific against FBS competition inside the opponent's 20 yard line. In nine trips, he's come away with 16 points. In the interest of stating the obvious, I feel as though I should point out that this ratio won't deliver a win in Oxford.
The Commodores need to show a lot of improvement and get a little bit of luck to escape Mississippi with Mason's first SEC win. Ultimately, I think they'll put together a solid defensive effort, but this team's offense isn't in the kind of place where they can put up the 30+ points they'll need to beat the top-ranked scoring offense in the country.
The Prediction: Vanderbilt 16, Ole Miss 34
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Missouri (+3) over KENTUCKY. Honestly, Mizzou probably doesn't deserve my faith after putting together one of the most unwatchable games in the history of American football last week, but I still think they'll find a way to get it done against a UK team that only put up nine points against a mediocre Florida team in their last outing.
Tom Stephenson: I'm not going to mince words here. After last Saturday night, I am convinced that Ole Miss is the best team in the country. We are playing them in Oxford, they're loaded with next-level talent on both sides of the ball, and... yeah, I just don't see this going well.
Johnny McCrary last week showed what he can do when the offensive line is giving him time to throw. But with Robert Nkemdiche facing an inexperienced line, that's less likely to be the case this week. The Vanderbilt defense might be able to have some success against the Rebel offense, but "success" is relative here. We're talking about an offense that's currently averaging 64 ppg and just scored 43 in Tuscaloosa.
My expectations for this game are to the point where I will be satisfied if this game is still competitive at halftime. Just get through this week with no injuries and let's move on ahead to the winnable games on the schedule.
The Pick: Ole Miss 49, Vanderbilt 14.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Mississippi State (+3) over AUBURN. This is that line where you just want to scratch your head and say "what are they thinking?" Preseason Heisman contender Jeremy Johnson has already lost his starting job, and while some might think that's addition by subtraction there is no guarantee that his backup will be any better. After all, he was the backup for a reason. Mississippi State should win this game.
VandyTigerPhD: Derek Mason could coach the game of his life, and I still don't see this ending well. I wouldn't quite say Mississippi is the best in the country, but if they're not, they're close to it. If they didn't do their best Vanderbilt impression in trying to get Bama back into the game several times, yikes. I talk about this a little in the Tailgate (teasers!) but seriously, that game in Tuscaloosa should have been a slaughter.
So yeah. We're going against a team that routinely puts up insane points, against a offense that's all pass, with a secondary that still needs work. Not good. Our only hope is Mississippi's tendency to play to the level of their opponent. Don't count on that though.
What I'm looking for is maturity more than anything. Do your jobs, execute as best as you can. Let's not exacerbate the situation by beating ourselves. This team *did* hold UGA to considerably less than USC did, so maybe we'll get lucky. It would feel pretty cool to say our defense did better than Bama, so let's aim for that?
The Pick: Ole Miss 45 - Vanderbilt 17
SEC Stone Cold Upset of the Century (Of the Week): That Mizzou - UK game looks like a tempting line, but I have a policy about not betting on cripple fights. Bad mojo. Gotta agree with Tom on this, whoever is setting the line for the Auburn game isn't paying attention. Gimme State and the FOUR points (the line has moved since Tom wrote his!). Maybe that Auburn safety will run away from another RB he trash talked this week!
VUFanInTX: The way we win this game comes down to a lot of fluke plays and crazy turnovers.... so chances are not high. A perfect game plan from Mason and Ludwig still wouldn't result in a likely win. Could we keep it close and make them nervous? Sure - but for how long? This is the best team we will play and they are playing the best ball of the season.
My biggest takeaway from this will be how our O-Line performs and if we can get any type of running game going. If we have to rely purely on Johnny McCrary passing the ball, we will be in for a long day. I think our Defense can keep them in check for a half before they explode. I want to believe that Andy will find away to get the running game going so we can limit their possessions.
The Pick: Ole Miss 38 - Vandy 21
SEC Pick to Watch the World Burn: I think this will be a week of almosts: I think 'Cuse will make it close with LSU just because LSU will not be interested in that game at all. I think UL-LA will make things dicey in Tuscaloosa for a bit making everyone panic. But my Upset of the week? Arkansas beating A&M. If only because it will cause people to say that the West is overrated.
Andrew VU '04: Late to the party here (stupid job), but this game is going to hurt. Ole Miss was always going to have a defense this year, but after bringing in Chad Kelly from the California Penal League (ala Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn), they have a QB, and thus, one hell of an offense. In the first three weeks, they've put up 76, 73, and 43 points - and one of them was against the Ramajama Crimson D. I'll average their output and guess they hang 64 on us. Hell, I'll generate our offensive output the same way (does math in head... umm...) and guess 24. The sad thing is it seems less likely we'll hit 24 than they will hit 64. Boo-urns.
This game will likely tell us nothing, other than Ole Miss is a legitimate National Title contender. But hey, maybe we can keep this tight for a quarter?
Probably not, but seeing as I'll be tailgating all day, I'll likely be too drunk to care. Consider that sunshine pumped.
The Pick: Ole Miss 64 - Vandy 24. Hope your liver has been well rested.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Syracuse (+∞) over LSU. LSU is going to win this game, but not by a mathematical impossibility.