Derek Mason has two weeks to prove 2016 was an improvement over 2015. SEC road win over Georgia aside, getting stuck at four wins would provide enough ammunition to mount a serious “Fire Mason” argument this winter.
Fortunately, he’ll have two chances to earn statement wins when Ole Miss and Tennessee visit Dudley Field in November. First up are the Rebels, who have underwhelmed at 5-5 this season, but will need a win either this week or in the Egg Bowl to secure bowl eligibility. Mississippi is coming off a rousing upset win over Texas A&M and will have momentum on its side in its quest for a fourth straight win over the Commodores.
Vanderbilt has...what’s the opposite of momentum? Derek Mason squandered the goodwill of a 2-1 stretch that featured a road win over Georgia and a tight road loss to Auburn by getting dragged up and down the field by a Missouri team that had only beaten Eastern Michigan and Delaware State before last Saturday. Now his team sits at 4-6 and in danger of another bowl-less December.
These Commodores are still young, and could certainly use the extra month of practice that comes with a postseason bid. Fortunately for Vanderbilt, the team’s strong academic record and high APR score puts the team in line for a bowl game even with a 5-7 season.
That puts a lot of pressure on Saturday’s game. So who comes out ahead?
Christian D’Andrea: Is it possible for a 4-6 team coming off a regrettable loss to face a trap game? Because that’s what I keep thinking for Ole Miss-Vanderbilt. With the outcome of Vandy’s postseason hopes likely the same with five wins or six, I find myself looking ahead to next week’s showdown with Tennessee — every season’s most meaningful showdown.
But Mississippi is a rivalry of its own, and one much more even than VU-UT. The Commodores were an inexplicable thorn in the Rebels side from the tail of the the Bobby Johnson era through James Franklin’s tenure. The two teams have been heading in different directions in recent years, however. Vanderbilt has lost its last two games against Ole Miss by a combined 68-19 score.
The Rebels looked vulnerable at this time last week, then rebounded to beat then-No. 8 Texas A&M with a true freshman at quarterback. There’s a chance Vanderbilt offers them a let-down game and the opportunity for a home upset, but that’s the kind of opportunity Mason can’t count on.
Instead, the Commodores will need a renewed defensive effort after getting gashed by Missouri last week. The Tigers had the most success of any team against Mason’s vaunted defense, chalking up just south of 500 yards. The Rebels are an even more explosive team who scored 43 points against Alabama’s Satan II defense. While Zach Cunningham will have several opportunities to shine, he can’t do everything. Vandy will need a solid cast of defenders to step up, one by one.
Offensively, Kyle Shurmur needs to continue his march towards owning this team. The offense lives and dies with him, especially now that Ralph Webb is hampered by an ankle injury. Andy Ludwig has done a good job of spreading the field and allowing his sophomore quarterback to make reads...in spurts. Too often, however, this offense goes back into its shell and faces third-and-long situations that are the equivalent of playing Pai-Gow Poker against the house.
Without a healthy Webb, Vanderbilt’s playcalling needs to shift from run-heavy to neutral, at the very least. Khari Blasingame is a capable back, but not at a point in his career where he can handle a full workload and be a consistent presence through 60 minutes. A strong passing game will give him and Webb the space they need to operate.
The past two weeks have been promising, despite their outcome. I think this team has the horses and ability to beat Mississippi. I don’t think they’re ready to execute at that level, however. Not after last week.
The Pick: Ole Miss 23, Vanderbilt 17
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Florida (+13.5) over LSU. The Gators, hearing that Tennessee is pushing SEC Championship game sales on its season ticket holders, find a new gear behind their new mission statement: “F*** Butch Jones.”
It’s a good mantra.
Tom Stephenson: There’s actually a solid argument for Vanderbilt figuring out a way to win this one. True freshman QB in his second college game, facing the Zach Cunningham-led Vanderbilt defense. Kyle Shurmur coming into his own over the past couple of weeks. Can Vanderbilt get the run game going, though?
Okay, maybe not. The Ralph Webb injury has pretty much thrown a wrench into this season, and it’s actually sort of weird that the coaching staff has chosen “throw him out there for 5-10 ineffective runs per game” rather than just letting him heal up. I don’t know, I don’t get it either, but this is why we can’t have nice things.
The Pick: Ole Miss 17, Vanderbilt 10.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: TULANE (+15) over Temple. Hets will get very wet in the face of the Green Wave... oh, fuck, they’re not in the SEC any more? Whatever, this will probably be more watchable than any of the actual SEC games this week what with this being SoCon Week and all.
VandyTigerPhD: Christian and Tom have both covered how I suspect most of us feel. The Missouri game destroyed most (if not all) the goodwill that had been building for the last month. Just when even the most negative of us were starting to warm to the idea of FOURTH YEAR for Derek Mason, we lose horribly to a team we had no business losing to.
Still, I have to believe that we’re going to play Mississippi tough. As Christian observed, Mississippi is more of a rival to us than Tennessee is. We generally play them tough, no matter what. Last year, under consdierably worse circumstances, we threatened the then #3 Rebels. Don’t forget the Rebs were hanging 45+ on teams back then.
Still, I just can’t see a win here.
The Pick: Mississippi: 27 - Vanderbilt 17
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: So half the SEC is playing cupcake 1-AA teams this week. That leaves me with three games to choose from, one of which CDA already picked; the other, requires me to think Mizzou somehow beats THEM. I will therefore go with the coin flip of Arkansas (+2) over Mississippi State.