Over the past decade, there’s only one team Vanderbilt has played every season and managed a winning record against -- Ole Miss. The Rebels, Vandy’s designated SEC West rival, have struggled with the Commodores since the turn of the millennium.
James Franklin was 2-1 against Mississippi in his career. Robbie Caldwell, amazingly, was 1-0. Derek Mason, following in their footsteps, can improve to .500 against the Rebels with a win on Saturday.
Mason’s Vanderbilt team has struggled as its level of competition increased exponentially the last three weeks. The ‘Dores ran through a gauntlet of top 25 teams and came out 1-3; the goodwill of a win over Kansas State was erased by blowout losses to Alabama and Georgia. A showdown with 2-3 Ole Miss will give the team a chance to right the ship.
Winning on the road against an SEC opponent is always tough, however. Is Saturday the day Vanderbilt earns its first conference victory?
Christian D’Andrea: Losses aside, Kyle Shurmur continues to look like the real deal behind center. His presence restores the kind of offensive confidence Vanderbilt lacked its past three seasons, even though the Commodores have score just 45 points in their last four games. Much of that can be attributed to a front line that has struggled to assert dominance in the trenches.
Ole Miss isn’t the kind of team that can exploit that weakness. Despite a roster filled with upper-tier athletes, the Rebels rank 78th in the country in team tackles for loss and 126th — second from the bottom — in sacks per game. If Vanderbilt can’t keep Shurmur upright and create space for Ralph Webb on Saturday, then this offensive line is in more trouble than we thought.
Giving Shurmur time is paramount in Andy Ludwig’s evolved 2017 offense. The Commodores have dedicated themselves to taking more shots downfield, and while this receiving group doesn’t have a standout All-SEC player at the top of the depth chart, the program boasts five targets who can make a meaningful and reliable impact on any given play. That gives the junior quarterback one hell of a progression order once he starts assessing his coverage downfield.
Vandy’s offense should rebound Saturday, but the team’s biggest question comes from a defense that’s allowed more than 1,100 rushing yards its past three games. Fortunately, that’s not a weakness the Rebels are built to exploit. Ole Miss ranks 127th in the nation with 76 rushing yards per game (2.9 yards per carry). Vanderbilt is light years ahead of its opponent...at No. 126.
Still, Mississippi isn’t built to exploit Vandy’s weaknesses, and its lack of a pass rush plays right into the ‘Dores’ newfound strength. Give me Vanderbilt in an upset road win Saturday.
The pick: Vanderbilt 28, Ole Miss 20
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: South Carolina (+2) over TENNESSEE. Something we can all hope for:
VandyTigerPhD: I’m covering this in the Q&A I gave RCR, but we’re a lot like Ole Miss going into this game. We've both had two strong games to start followed by three horror shows. We’ve both been crushed by Bama, we both lost badly to a division opponent. We both had a game we coulda won get away. More than that, we’re both worse on the run defense than we should be. We’ve both got growing QBs that could really become something special. We both are anemic on run offense (though Mississippi by choice).
Really the biggest difference is turnovers. We don’t do that. Yeah, we stall out a lot but we don’t turnover a lot. So couple our strength on the ball with the fact that, as CDA covered above, our strength matches a weakness of theirs in the pass... and I’ll take a Vanderbilt upset in Oxford.
It’s going to be a cripple fight though.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 24 - Ole Miss 17
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Aggie is terrible, but because we must have total and complete chaos, and because I’ve spent so much time talking about how Aggie is terrible, they will beat a terrible Gators team tomorrow. Give me AGGIE (+3) over Florida.
Tom Stephenson: So, these two teams seem fairly evenly matched, right? Both have a young-(ish) quarterback with a good arm who can make all the throws and no running game to speak of. Vanderbilt’s run defense has given up yards (to say the least) over the last three weeks; Ole Miss’s secondary has gotten torched.
I think that matchup favors Vanderbilt: the Commodores probably have a better chance of keeping Shea Patterson in check than Ole Miss does of keeping Kyle Shurmur in check, and Vanderbilt seems to be abandoning the run anyway. And then I look on the sidelines and remember that Ole Miss is coached by somebody named Matt Luke, who sounds much more like a middling NASCAR driver than an SEC football coach. Not that there’s a ton of difference.
That said, get ready for an unusually high-scoring game for Vanderbilt. Is that weird to say? Because I’m saying it.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 31, Ole Miss 27
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Since I’m last to the party and I don’t want to steal anybody’s upset pick, let’s go with LSU (+7) over Auburn, because I like to live dangerously.