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Unfortunately, there are two halves in a football game

Vanderbilt led at halftime, so at least there was that.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Vanderbilt George Walker IV-USA TODAY Sports

If you were looking for reasons to be optimistic about the direction of the Vanderbilt football program in the second year of the Clark Lea era, well, you got them in the first half of Saturday’s game.

The Commodores held Ole Miss to a field goal on its opening drive and then, after Vanderbilt’s first offensive drive bogged down deep in Ole Miss territory, the Commodores evened the score at 3 on a Joseph Bulovas field goal. Then, the defense held on fourth down on the Rebels’ ensuing drive and Vanderbilt responded with a scoring drive, capped by a 36-yard catch and run by Jayden McGowan to make the score 10-3. Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart responded by throwing an interception, and another field goal gave Vanderbilt a 13-3 lead.

Ole Miss responded with a three-play touchdown drive, scoring on a 61-yard touchdown pass. But Vanderbilt extended the lead to 20-10 with a drive that took 8:54 off the clock, scoring on a 4-yard run by Ray Davis on 4th and 2 when Ole Miss absolutely was concerned about a trick play with Mike Wright taking the snap. The Rebels scored a touchdown just before halftime to make it 20-17, but the halftime score marked the first time since October 2019 that Vanderbilt led an SEC opponent at the half.

And then the second half happened.

Vanderbilt opened the second half with the ball, but went 15 yards before punting. Ole Miss took the lead with a quick score; then, A.J. Swann threw a backward pass that Ray Davis couldn’t catch, Ole Miss recovered, and punched it in to extend its lead to 31-20. Another Vanderbilt three-and-out was followed by a 71-yard touchdown pass thrown by Dart, and nine minutes after Vanderbilt held a halftime lead, Ole Miss led 38-20. A.J. Swann would throw his second touchdown pass of the day to Will Sheppard in the fourth quarter, but the final was 52-28.

The Vanderbilt offense finished with a respectable 403 yards of total offense; the defense was a different matter, allowing 591 yards. Vanderbilt is now 3-3, 0-2 in the SEC and will travel to Georgia next Saturday.