I sat down with Red Cup Rebellion’s Will Gates this week to talk some Vandy-Rebels. In our traditional format, we exchanged a few questions with each other, and you can check out my answers to his questions over at RCR. In fact, I encourage you to go over there, we like our RCR brothers and sisters. Fins up, or something.
Here we go!
In a lot of ways, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss have had similar luck these last three weeks. We've both been crushed by Bama, we've both had bad losses to division teams (UGA & Auburn) and we've both had a disappointing away game (UF, Cal). What's the number one thing you're hoping to see out of the Rebs' play this Saturday?
Will Gates: I'd like to see more consistent ball movement out of the offense. We knew the defense would be bad, so expectations for them remain low. The offense, on the other hand, is loaded with enough talent to not be as stagnant as they've looked. They're capable of big plays, but lately, these moments have been more isolated and haven't necessarily led to points all the time.
Against Power 5 teams, they've been terrible at staying on schedule, and I have a hard time believing it's a personnel issue. It's already difficult to remain invested in this season for obvious reasons, so they have to turn things around in this regard to keep chins up.
Also like Vanderbilt, the Ole Miss defensive unit has looked like it's taken some steps backwards. Is that on playing teams straight up better physically or are there more technical problems like not getting to the right spots, etc.?
Will Gates: It's probably a bit of both. The defense's weaknesses didn't become totally apparent until facing Alabama and Auburn, who are obviously stacked with weapons and capable of beating thinner teams to a pulp. They had an impressive showing against Cal before those two weeks, in which they endured a ton of snaps and only gave up 20 points to an albeit banged up Golden Bear offense.
This group's shortcomings can't totally be blamed on a lack of physicality or personnel though, and coaching has to be blamed at some point. They're not completely devoid of talent on this end, as key pieces like Marquis Haynes, Zedrick Woods, and Benito Jones were expected to cause more havoc than they have. It feels like the linebackers get fooled by play action every time, and most of the secondary can't be relied on in man coverage. Other times, players actually are in position and simply can't make tackles near the line of scrimmage or in the second level. Like I said before, we knew the defense wouldn't be great, but they haven't made a meaningful, quality stop against a good offense yet.
Ole Miss is dead last in terms of how often it tries to run on standard downs. Given Vanderbilt's recent struggles in stopping the run, do you see that changing? Or, will Ole Miss continue to lean on Shea Patterson for their offense?
Will Gates: It's no secret that Ole Miss' strength is in the passing game, but we're starting to see the effects of having no balance. We haven't been able to convince teams to respect the run and put defenders in the box. That, combined with shaky pass protection, has led to defenses sending just a few rushers and maintaining a numbers advantage in coverage. They're gonna have to at least try to get the run going against Vandy to open up opportunities for big plays through the air, but they obviously shouldn't bang their heads against a wall if it's not working. Hell, Longo may even feature Shea Patterson on some designed runs. We still don't know all the wrinkles of his offense.
What's your prediction for the game?
Will Gates: I think Vandy wins in a close one, and it won't be quite as embarrassing as last year. I'd say Ole Miss simply went up against great teams on the road, but Cal appears to be very bad. The Commodores, on the other hand, at least have that quality win over Kansas State. Ralph Webb could have a field day.
Finally, I and a few other of my fellow Commodores will be in Oxford for the first time. Any places you can recommend for the first timer to check out?
Will Gates: In no particular order, Ajax, Snack Bar, Boure, City Grocery has a great bar, Oxford Canteen, Handy Andy, Saint Leo, Big Bad Breakfast, Volta. If you go to any of those places and not the Beacon, you should have a good weekend.
Extra Credit: What's the most "red cup" way to BBQ some pulled pork?
Will Gates: Inject with apple cider vinegar mixture with sugar, salt, spices, slather in mustard, rub down with Magic Dust (google it), smoke with apple wood at 225 degrees, about 1.5 hour per pound, mop with same injection every hour, finish with a mop of your favorite BBQ sauce for last 2 hours