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Sloppy defense, blocking doom Vanderbilt in 57-35 loss to Mississippi

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The Commodores frustrating performance raises serious questions in a four-game losing streak.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday’s matchup against a 2-3 Ole Miss team was supposed to be a reprieve from a brutal stretch that featured four straight games against ranked opponents. Instead, it was just another example of how broken the Vanderbilt defense is.

The Commodores blew assignments, whiffed on tackles, and served as the remedy for the Rebels’ offensive woes in a 57-35 loss. The Vandy offensive line was just as bad. Ole Miss game into Saturday’s showdown with four sacks in its first five games. After just 22 minutes, they’d sacked Kyle Shurmur five times.

Shurmur was mercurial in a gave his defense forced him to play from behind and his offensive line forced him to play from his back. While he finished the game with a pair of touchdown passes, he also had a pair strip-sack fumbles and an interception that all led to Ole Miss points. The junior quarterback left the game in the fourth quarter after getting rocked and was checked for a concussion on the sideline before heading to the sideline.

Deuce Wallace played well in relief, completing five of his eight passes for 55 yards and his first NCAA touchdown.

Any hope Vandy’s rush defense could improve against an ineffective Rebel backfield were quickly dispelled. Ole Miss came into Saturday’s game averaging just 78 rush yards per game on 2.9 yards per carry. Against the Commodores, they ran for 243 — a 6.2 YPC average.

Vanderbilt actually took a 14-7 lead thanks to Ralph Webb’s best effort of the season. His first touchdown of the day, from 38 yards out, was his longest run of the year.

His second showcased his tenacity, as a brilliant second effort broke the plane and gave the Commodores a fleeting moment of confidence.

It didn’t last. A litany of regrettable mistakes allowed the home team to roar back in front of a homecoming crowd. A blown coverage allowed an entirely uncovered DeMarkus Lodge to walk into the end zone to tie the game at 14-all. Two Shurmur turnovers and a three-and-out led to three more touchdowns and a daunting 35-14 deficit as time ran down on the second quarter.

Ole Miss’s consecutive touchdown streak ended at four after a 48-yard Donaven Tennyson sweep — the team’s longest play of 2017 — set up a Kalija Lipscomb score to make it 35-21 at the half.

Any opportunity to roll that momentum into a comeback was immediately squandered. Vandy’s first drive of the second half ended with a Shurmur strip-sack that punched the ball into the end zone. Justin Skule eventually fell on it, gifting Ole Miss two points and possession. The Rebels composed a three-play, 50-yard drive to effectively turn the Commodores’ opening possession into a nine-point deficit.

Though Vanderbilt would push drives into Ole Miss territory, they never threatened to ruin the Rebels’ day. A one-yard pass from Shurmur to a wide-open Jared Pinkney ensured the team’s best scoring performance since routing Alabama A&M. Wallace’s touchdown strike to Trent Sherfield made it a respectable 35-point showing.

Vanderbilt fell to 3-4 overall and 0-4 in the SEC with the loss. Ole Miss picked up its first league victory with the win and improved to 3-3 (1-3) overall. The Commodores will have a bye week next weekend to address their issues before returning to the field October 28th against South Carolina.